Less than two weeks after the mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, which targeted Black patrons, another senseless massacre in Texas claimed the lives of 19 children and two teachers on Tuesday. All of the victims were in the same fourth-grade classroom at Robb Elementary, a school in the Latinx-concentrated city of Uvalde just 54 miles from the United States-Mexico border. The tragic bloodshed marks the deadliest school shooting since the one at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, yet many of the arguments as to why this happened that concern race, immigration status, or mental health have failed to actually address the issue of gun violence.
After Buffalo gunman Payton S. Gendron cited the “Great Replacement” theory in his manifesto, conservative talking heads have empathized with the rhetoric that says white Americans are being strategically outnumbered by non-whites to further justify the already inhumane practices of U.S. border patrols. Unlike the avowed white supremacist, Latino gunman Salvador Ramos’ actions are shrouded in xenophobic sentiment and being used to push for greater border security to stop the migration of non-whites — in this case, Latinx immigrants, a population former U.S. president Donald Trump once reduced to drug dealers and rapists, despite their voting for him in droves in places like Texas.
Once the Uvalde gunman's name was released, it took little time for xenophobia to rear its ugly head. On Tuesday, Tennessee nonprofit organization Code of Vets attempted to use Ramos’ case to support increased border security. “Did he cross the border illegally? Our nation has a serious national security crisis evolving. God help us,” they tweeted, with no context on Ramos' immigration status. In an emphatic response, comedian-activist Amanda Seales cracked the mic on her Instagram page to highlight how thoughtless and, quite frankly, “deranged” it is for anyone to not bring up the only issue that needs immediate mitigating: gun violence. “Do you understand how sick you have to be at this moment to go there and not to, 'why are guns so available to anyone?' We are immersed in sickness, in sick people, who are deranged,” she said, calling those who espouse this xenophobic viewpoint as the real "national security crisis." It should be noted that it was a border patrol agent who killed Ramos and is being heralded as a hero. With U.S. Customs and Border Protection heavy at the scene, it has also been reported that some undocumented families of children at the school were scared to stop by to even see if their child was safe.
Whether prompted by racism or mental health, mass shootings are rooted in white supremacy and fragile masculinity. “Whatever drove that young Latino to commit mass murder, whether it was personal or mental health, a response to bullying or whatnot, it was America’s white supremacist gun culture that provided him with the tools, both materialistically and ideologically, to carry it out,” one Los Angeles-based Salvadoran artist said. And they're right. Gun violence is literally baked into the U.S. story and continues to enable a culture of border patrols and mass shooters — of all races and ethnicities.
While the Pew Research Center reports that white men are more likely to be gun owners in general, the National Shooting Sports Foundation said last year there was a 58.2% increase in firearm purchases among Black people, 49% among Latinxs, and 43% among Asians, estimating that 40% of sales overall were thanks to first-time gun buyers. Those afraid “it’s too soon” to politicize Uvalde must consider that the constant in all these senseless active shooter attacks is the unrestricted civilian access to assault rifles. The 18-year-old Uvalde gunman legally purchased two of them just after his birthday this month.
While Democrats have famously relied on identity-informed messaging and appeal to lure so-called Hispanic voters, Latinxs in red states like Texas share many of the same values as their non-Latinx white counterparts, including promoting the oil industry, banning abortion, and defending gun rights. Despite its Tejano concentration, Texas remains overwhelmingly white, with more than 75% of its residents identifying as such, including many Latinxs themselves.
The irony of red states being overwhelmingly pro-life is, of course, in the gun laws they create that are complicit in this country’s history of school mass shootings. Irrespective of whether Ramos was angry, sick, or racist, as a high school student he was allowed, by law, to purchase the kind of fire rifles that are standard use only by armies around the world. Instead of being concerned about a civilian ban on assault rifles, Congress is rushing to put a ban on the right to safe and legal abortion. Similarly, across the southern border, we’re barring people in search of a better life from entering the country under the guise of national security, instead of banning the loopholes in background checks that would better help secure national safety. In both instances, it’s primarily non-white communities that suffer.
In 2020, the U.S. saw the highest-recorded number of hate crimes in two decades against Blacks, Latinx, and Asians. The boom in firearm purchases among people of color is a reflection of the fear these hate crimes have incited across non-white communities. A catch-22 of sorts, it has been proven that where there are more guns, there are consequently more homicides, with Latinxs being disproportionately impacted by gun violence.
While the National Rifle Association and firearms industry have a history of peddling the myth of self-defense, a study by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) found that there were only 298 “justifiable homicides” reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation across the nation in 2017 involving a private citizen using a firearm. That same year, there were 10,380 criminal gun homicides tallied in total. “Guns are rarely used to kill criminals or stop crimes,” VPC warned us early on.
This moment takes me back to my summer in the Dominican Republic in 2019, a year the U.S reportedly had more mass shootings than days. The sad running quip among my little group of friends was how a so-called Third World, Black Caribbean nation, with its own unique set of problems, at least did not have to deal with mass school and movie theater shootings. I remember sitting there and chewing on the gravity of why our parents fled what we perceived as refuge to a country that doesn’t love its most vulnerable and voiceless. As President Joe Biden said during his address speech following the Uvalde elementary school shooting, “These kinds of mass shootings never happen with the kind of frequency they happen in America. Why? It's time to turn this page into action.”
For once, Biden and I agree.