Horror, obviously, that this could happen at a primary school in the middle of the day, the most vulnerable mown down in broad daylight, 90 miles west of San Antonio, with at least one of their teachers. Others are injured, who knows who badly.
But then comes the exasperation, the weary helplessness, and – in truth – the sheer anger. How can this be happening once again in America?
How can another community become irrevocably torn apart by such senseless violence, barely a week or so after 10 Black people were shot and killed in Buffalo, New York. When will this insanity be stopped?
In 2020, the most recent year for which figures are available, there were 19,384 gun murders, the most since at least 1968.
In addition, another 24,000 people people killed themselves with firearms, bringing a total of 44,000 Americans who lost their lives to gun violence, according to statistics from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. (A slim, silver lining in the data, is that while the total of killings is up, the number per 100,000 is down.)
Each of the deaths is an individual tragedy and the circumstances unique. Yet, in the vast majority of these murders, there is one thing that links them: that if America had common-sense gun regulation, they would not have occurred.
Who knows what led the gunman – said to be an 18-year-old male – to open fire on the youngsters at Uvalde with a handgun and a rifle. Uncofirmed reports said that the night before, he had attacked his grandmother.
We do know what inspired the alleged gunman who opened fire earlier this month at a supermarket in Buffalo to act – racist bigotry. He was also able to legally get his hands on a weapon, a Bushmaster XM-15 semi-automatic rifle, for around $1,000.
An alarm raised by the shooter’s high school when he said that his post-graduation ambitions included “murder/suicide,” was not sufficient under the state’s “red flag” law to stop the purchases. And bear in mind, New York’s gun laws are some of the strictest.
Senator Chris Murphy pleads for Senate to take action on gun control after Texas massacre
The United States is the not the only place with racist, or angry, or deluded or otherwise-motivated people, looking for a fight, or to settle a score, real or imagined. But it is the only place where mass shootings are a weekly or daily occurrence.
It is the only place where repeated efforts to try and regulate the sale of guns have been systematically blocked. Other countries, including Australia and Britain, have suffered such incidents, but those incidents – most notably the 1996 primary school shooting at Dunblane, Scotland, led to decisive – and united action.
And even when a president is desperate to take action against guns, as Barack Obama was after the shootings at Sandy Hook, Conntecticut, in 2012 ,they run into road blocks, either in the form of Republicans in Congress, the National Rifle Association and other gun lobbyists, people like Donald Trump who tells his supporters that Democrats want to take your guns, or even Joe Manchin, who has refused to support broader gun control and disengenously blames people with mental health issues.
Or they run into the claptrap and hogwash about a “good guy with a gun” being the best and only protection to a bad guy with a gun.
In my time in the US, I’ve covered at least four major mass shootings – Virginia Tech in 2007, the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in 2015, the Pulse Nightclub Shooting in Orlando in 2016 ,and the attack at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, in 2019. (In 2015, Obama delivered a eulogy and sang Amazing Grace, at a memorial for the Black churchgoers killed in Charleston.)
Then, as now, there was demand for change. But nothing did.
Just as little changed when a gunman killed 60 people is Las Vegas in 2107, or attacked Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February 2018.
Massive credit then to the likes of David Hogg and Winter BreeAnne and Shannon Watts, gun control advocates who manage to find the energy to push for change, amid the horror, just just of the repeated violence, but of the constant sense of deja vu, of a record stuck on repeat, of a screen saver that does not change no matter how often you try and refresh the page.
And zero credit, to the likes of Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, who who has fought every gun control measure possible, and who in 2021 signed into law legislation that allowed Texans to carry handguns without a permit. “Today, I signed documents that instill freedom in the Lone Star State,” he said to cheers.
So when on Tuesday he offered his regrets and prayers, and claimed to be mourning “this horrific loss” and we urged “Texans to come together,” then one might be forgiven for telling him that his words fall flat and cold.
And when the White House says Joe Biden is going to address the nation, perhaps he ought to take the night off and pause and reflect.
(As it, was Biden, looking exhausted after a 17-hour flight from Asia, spoke with eloquence and grace – “When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby” – but as he pointed, out there were similar words a decade ago after the slaughter in Connecticut.)
Perhaps Americans, and all of those living here, need to feel angry and ashamed and appalled that this has happened again, on our watch, and that another 21 people are dead.
And then the best of us, the activists who somehow find it in them to get up day after day – after days like this – can make use of that intensity to press their cause.