On Tuesday, an 18-year-old shot and killed 19 children and two adults at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. It was the second deadliest school shooting in American history, behind the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting when 20 children and six adults were killed.
Mass shootings are so common in America that most of these tragedies barely make a blip in the gun control debate.
The country experiences a mass shooting nearly every day, and once every three weeks someone is shot on school property, according to data from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security. The large majority of these shootings don’t get coverage in national media outlets, and after a day or two, the media moves on to the next story, politicians put gun control legislation on the back burner and Americans get apathetic about gun control.
Among the few things that keep gun control in the public consciousness are school shootings with large death tolls.
After the Sandy Hook shooting, gun control stayed in the news cycle for months, according to data from the GDELT project which analyzes closed caption text. An extended political debate eventually led to 23 executive actions from President Barack Obama which, among other things, created a more robust background check system. Soon thereafter, Congress nearly passed bipartisan gun control legislation.
A similar thing happened after 17 people were killed in the 2018 Parkland school shooting. After extensive media coverage and political handwringing, federal legislation stalled but state legislators passed a flurry of gun control laws.
It took many children being killed in their classrooms for media coverage to stay focused on gun control, for more Americans to search for gun control online and, ultimately, for more Americans to support gun control measures.
Still, these political sentiments have yet to translate into even milquetoast federal gun control legislation.
After the Sandy Hook shooting, a 2013 bipartisan bill co-sponsored by the Democratic senator Joe Manchin and Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican, would have required federal background checks for guns purchased at gun shows and on the internet. It lacked a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, with the hope that it would appease enough Republicans to pass. But even that compromise bill failed to garner the required 60 votes in the Senate.
After the Parkland shooting, a 2019 bipartisan effort stalled when Democrats sought to impeach President Donald Trump.
And last week after a shooting in Buffalo where 10 people were killed, Democrats renewed their push for more robust background checks but there was little hope any gun control legislation would get through Congress.
In 2012 after the Sandy Hook shooting, President Barack Obama spoke to the victims’ families and said, “We can’t accept events like this as routine … We can’t tolerate this any more. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”
The data shows Americans are willing to change their opinions on gun control after these tragedies – that the majority of the country supports stricter gun laws, especially in the aftermath of deadly school shootings.
Congress, however, has been unable to enact what the majority of Americans want.