The Economy of Tolerable Massacres: The Uvalde Shootout

Societies tend to generate their own economies of tolerable cruelty and injustice. Poverty, for example, will be permitted as long as a sufficient number of individuals benefit from it. To some extent, crime and violence can thrive. In the United States, the economy of tolerable slaughter, carried out by military-grade weaponry, is substantial and seemingly resilient. Its participants all participate in its administration, playing their dark roles under the hallowed banner of constitutional freedom and psychobabble.

Just as prison reform tends to keep pace with bloated system expansion, the gun argument in the United States barely keeps pace with each massacre. With each series of killings, a scenario is activated: initial horror, hot tears of indignation for never again, and then, the impasse on reform until the next series of murders can be duly accommodated. “It is not enough to reiterate the plain truth that the assault weapons used in mass shootings should be prohibited and confiscated,” observed Benjamin Kunkel. “Instead, each new atrocity must be recruited from everyone’s favorite single-factor sociological narrative.”

In Uvalde, Texas, an armed teenager (they’re getting younger) broke into an elementary school and delivered an unforgettable lesson. When he finished at Robb Elementary School, 19 children and 2 adults had perished. But even that effort, in the premier league rankings of school murders, failed to top the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012. On that occasion, 26 lost their lives.

The horror and tears of indignation were duly reported. “Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen? President Biden rhetorically intoned at a press conference. “For every parent, for every citizen of this country, we must make it clear to every elected official in this country: it is time to act. This would involve passing “common sense gun laws” and cracking down on the gun lobby.

The following day, Vice President Kamala Harris reiterated the formula. “We must work together to create an America where everyone feels safe in their community, where children feel safe in their schools.”

Politicians are duly accompanied by talking heads, like Ron Avi Astor, described by NPR as “an expert in mass shooting.” With that unsavory appellation, we’re told this UCLA professor is puzzled as to why negligible changes to gun laws have taken place since Sandy Hook. Faced with such perplexity, he suggests an old academic trick: reframe the problem to lessen its gravity.

With some enthusiasm, Astor starts to say that schools in the United States are fabulously successful in dealing with violence – as long as you take a long-term view. “If you look over the last 20 years, really since Columbine, there’s been a massive, massive, massive decrease… in victimization and violence in schools.” Diving into the silver lining in his massive way, he finds “reductions” in violence on the order of 50-70%.

It never takes long for the economics of tolerable slaughter to generate the next round of rambling arguments, with barely cold corpses. The most common is that of firing frequency. Was it a good year compared to the previous one? This year, the United States has suffered 27.

Since 2018, Education Week, showing how school deaths should feature prominently in curriculum planning, has taken a grim look at the whole issue. Read his compiled figures – “heartbreaking, but important work”, the newspaper complaints – is equivalent to tapping into stock market returns with the required sensitivity. In 2021, there were 34 school shootings, a truly exceptional year. In 2020, it was mediocre on this front: a modest 10. 2019 and 2018 saw higher returns: 24 each.

If you want to be entertained by the macabre nature of it all, Education Week also gives us a bit of infotainment with a graphic on “Where the shootings happened.” The points are shown on a map of the country. “The size of the dots corresponds to the number of people killed or injured. Click on each point for more information. Where would we be without these valuable services?

To lend credence to the seemingly immutable nature of this on-set economy, platoons of commentators, with varying skills, argue over the answers, most showing that common sense in this area is a lofty dream. The Conservative National Review takes the view that “stricter background checks” would hardly have worked for the Uvalde shooter. There was no paper trail marking him as a threat, nothing to suggest he should have been barred as a “legal adult from buying a gun.” The implicit suggestion here: only crackpots kill.

The firearms affair is the affair of a particular American sensibility. While the school shooting is still fresh, various GOP members and Donald Trump have expressed interest in participating in a Memorial Day weekend event hosted by the National Rifle Association. In a statement On the shooting, the NRA expressed its “sincere sympathies” for the families and victims of “this horrific and evil crime”, but preferred to describe the killings as the responsibility of “a lone and deranged criminal”. Leave gun regulations alone; instead, focus on school safety.

Once this brief formality has been completed, the NRA expressed his joy at its upcoming Annual Meetings and Expositions event to be held at the George R. Brown Convention Center, Houston, May 27-29. the most popular companies in the industry. It promises to be fun for the whole family.

Then comes the thorny question of definitions, a sure way to kill any sensible action. From boffin to reactionary, no one can quite accept what a “school shooting” is. Nonprofits such as New York-based Everytown for Gun Safety include any school firearm discharge in the definition. “In 2022”, the organization complaints“There were at least 77 incidents of shootings on school grounds, resulting in 14 deaths and 45 injuries nationwide.”

Everytown for Gun Safety is want to paint a picture annual murderous rampage: 3,500 children and adolescents shot and killed; 15,000 wounded by gunshot. Some 3 million children in the United States are exposed to shootings each year.

The tone underlying such a message is completely at odds with the quiet approach taken by Astor – what Australians would call the “she’ll be right, mate” spirit caste. It is certainly Panglossian in nature, aligning itself with the views of cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, an extraordinary optimist about the human condition. Taken globally, he keeps insisting, we live in a much better and less violent time than our ancestors. Massacres like those at Sandy Hook should not be taken to mean that schools have become less safe. “People still think violence has increased because they reason from memorable examples rather than global data.” For Pinker, the 2013 joint survey by the Departments of Justice and Education of statistics such as victimization rates from 1992 to non-fatal victimizations was enough rebuke to the pessimists and complainers.

The Uvalde massacre will, over time, be absorbed by this tolerable economy of violence. Anger will dissipate; collective amnesia, if not mere indifference, will exert its dull sleep. The dead, except those personally affected, will follow the path of others, buried in confetti and scrapings of statistics.

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About Mark A. Tomlin

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