On Tuesday, May 24, Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, was fine-tuning the details to celebrate the end of the school year, graduation and farewell of its students, as it does every year.
These celebrations, typical of this month, turned into national mourning after a high school student took a large caliber weapon and opened fire mercilessly against teachers, staff and dozens of second and third grade children that morning.
The shooting left 21 people dead*, including three teachers and 18 children. Before perpetrating the vicious attack against the innocents, the assailant allegedly killed his grandmother.
Since Uvalde is such a small town, "everyone knows each other" and an event of this magnitude marks and will deeply mark this city: "People can't believe what happened", says one of the parishioners who attended the ceremony.
Uvalde is a town of about 16,000 inhabitants, most of them of Hispanic origin. Geographically it constitutes the intermediate point to the West, between San Antonio and the border with Mexico. It has several schools, among them the Catholic school of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and its homonymous parish. The church is one of the most important Catholic centers in the western part of the Archdiocese of San Antonio.
Nothing will ever be the same for the families of the victims. Nor for the community of Uvalde.
After the news broke, dozens of parishioners gathered at Uvalde's only Catholic Church, Sacred Heart of Jesus, to join in prayer and attend a Mass presided by Archbishop Gustavo Garcia Siller of San Antonio on Tuesday evening.
"There are no words to describe the sadness, grief and overwhelming shock at the incomprehensible loss of life of children and adults at Robb Elementary School. When will these senseless acts of violence end? These massacres cannot be considered the new normal. The Catholic Church constantly calls for the protection of life and these mass shootings are a very pressing issue on which all must act, both elected leaders and citizens," said Bishop Garcia Siller.
The problem of firearms
In addition to criminals, there are other culprits: firearms. This shooting in Uvalde reopens for the umpteenth time the debate on an untouchable subject for a sector of the U.S. population: the possession of firearms, a right protected by the Second Amendment of the Constitution. In most parts of the United States, any adult can purchase large-caliber weapons: rifles, 9 mm. pistols, rifles, machine guns or more specialized weapons on request. There are catalogs and even fairs are organized in which large manufacturers sell their products offering them as if they were harmless firecrackers. In many states, obtaining a gun can be as easy as getting a drug at the pharmacy. All you need to do is present an ID.
Just 10 days earlier there had been another attack in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, which left 10 dead and 3 wounded. According to the Pew Research Center, 45,222 people died in 2020 in the U.S. from firearm-related injuries; of these, 513 people died during mass shootings. These incidents have increased markedly since 2000 from 2 in 2000 to 40 in 2020. Many of these tragedies took place in public schools and even churches.
The debate on the regulation and prohibition of firearms in the United States has not progressed for decades. Even foreign governments, such as Mexico, have denounced that uncontrolled gun sales in the United States affect not only the United States but Mexico as well. A large percentage of the guns used by drug traffickers in that country are produced in the United States and cross the border illegally into the hands of drug traffickers.
While members of the Democratic Party, including President Biden, are pushing for regulation and restriction of gun sales, the Republican Party is not budging an inch. However, the main obstacle, or key player in this issue is the National Rifle Association, one of the most influential and powerful organizations in the country.
The NRA has put the brakes on any attempt to regulate gun ownership and acquisition. These days, the issue is not likely to make it past the tabloids, even after massacres as vicious as the one in Uvalde and President Biden's protest: "I am tired and fed up with all of this" (Message to the Nation after the Uvalde Massacre, May 24). The reason, as Pope Francis has pointed out on countless occasions, is that behind the weapons there are very powerful economic interests that will be very difficult to defeat.
*Victims on May 25 10:00 a.m. Spanish time