Opinion: Uvalde wasn’t ‘unimaginable.’ In this country, it was predictable

Family members place flowers at a memorial outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
Family members place flowers at a memorial outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Thursday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, May 29, 2022. Let’s look back at the week in Opinion.

May 25, just this past Wednesday, was the second anniversary of George Floyd’s death. In a country where the time between national tragedies is measured in years or even decades, the last week would have been an occasion to reflect on how serious we were two years ago when, after a Black man was murdered on the street by a Minneapolis cop, leaders in governments across the country and in institutions like the Los Angeles Times examined their generations-long perpetuation of racism and promised to make changes.

But we’re not doing that, or at least, we’re not doing it in a way that Floyd’s memory deserves or such an inflection point in history demands. Because there’s a fresher tragedy that stirs our soul-searching, one arguably as American in its depravity and frequency as the police killing of an unarmed African American — the mass murder of innocent people doing normal, everyday things.


You know what happened — or do you? Might the atrocity to which I refer be the killing of 10 people at a Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store in a racist attack? Or are we sufficiently removed from that massacre, not even two weeks ago, to surmise that the “fresher tragedy” is the killing of 19 fourth-grade children and two of their teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday? By the time you read this, will another “unimaginable” mass shooting be the object of our outrage? I don’t say that flippantly: Remember, the day after 23 people were killed in a racist attack in El Paso in August 2019, a gunman murdered nine people in Dayton, Ohio. A mass shooting is an “unimaginable” tragedy, perhaps, only because there’s no need to imagine them happening.

Speaking of “unimaginable,” I wrote an op-ed piece taking issue with that word being thrown around by people empowered to do something about gun violence in this country. If those politicians find the events in Uvalde so incomprehensible, perhaps they should ask parents like me, who are raising children in a country where the murder of first-graders in Newtown, Conn., in 2012 wasn’t enough to spawn meaningful gun control. I’ve had to talk with my kids about mass shootings; I’ve even imagined what it might feel like to learn that the latest slaughter was at their school, in their classroom.

Politicians who say massacres like the ones in Uvalde; Newtown; Buffalo; Dayton; Boulder, Colo.; Parkland, Fla.; Las Vegas, Orlando, Fla.; El Paso, Thousand Oaks, Pittsburgh, Littleton, Colo.; or any number of places, are “unimaginable” tragedies might want to give up trying to imagine and open their eyes to reality.

National suicide plays out one murderous mass shooting at a time. The Times Editorial Board doesn’t mince words after the Uvalde murders: “This is who we are. This is what we have become. We can no longer send our children to school without pangs of anxiety that they will be in the line of fire in what ought to be havens of safety and learning. Nor can we find refuge in churches, mosques or synagogues, or in shopping centers, or at baby showers, picnics or parties. When we feel in danger, we get out our guns. Our guns put us in danger, so we get more.” L.A. Times

In a column about the 2nd Amendment, Nicholas Goldberg wrote perhaps the tidiest summary of where we are right now with gun violence in America: “Our gun laws are not just weak and insufficient. They are, to put it bluntly, suicidal. Yet year after year, we do little or nothing to change them. Instead we offer tears and prayers for the victims and then let the tragedies slip slowly from our minds as the days and weeks pass until the next nightmare inevitably occurs and the cycle begins again. ‘We have to act,’ said President Biden Tuesday, just as he has said repeatedly in the past.” L.A. Times

More on the Uvalde mass shooting: In letters to the editor, teachers explain the grim calculations they have to make about how big a closet must be to hide every 6-year-old in their class or what they would do to barricade their doors against a would-be killer. In other letters, a self-professed conservative Christian wonders if his fellow gun-rights supporters put more effort into protecting the 2nd Amendment than this country’s 2nd-graders. In an op-ed article, professors at Columbia University recommend policy changes (quite simple ones, really — things like “ban assault weapons” and “require safe home storage”) that would prevent future mass shootings instead of just react to the last one. The editorial board notes that in the room where former President Trump addressed a National Rifle Assn. conference in Houston on Friday, firearms were prohibited.

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White replacement theory is fascism’s new name. This piece by Jason Stanley and Federico Finchelstein, both scholars on fascism, dovetails with the main topic of last week’s Opinion newsletter: “Today we’re seeing an emergent wave of new right-wing populist leaders throughout the world. And as with fascist leaders of the past, much of their political power is derived from questioning reality; endorsing myth, rage, and paranoia; and promoting lies. In this context, WRT is increasingly normalized. From Donald Trump to Viktor Orbán, prime minister of Hungary, these fascist ideas are shared at the highest level of so-called illiberal politics.” L.A. Times

The problem with college debt is that we never fix the causes. Amid the speculation about how much student loan debt the Biden administration will forgive, and for whom, the editorial board gets at a fundamental question: “No matter what course Biden takes at this point, though, what’s missing is a plan to permanently reduce student debt through basic college reform. After all, today’s college graduates might get relief, but what about next year’s grads, and those in the years and decades to come?” L.A. Times

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