Point Austin: Shoot First

Boys and their toys, at the Legislature and elsewhere

Point Austin: Shoot First

The dust – or should we say the gunpowder? – has hardly settled on the 85th Texas Legislature, and by the time you read this, Gov. Greg Abbott will likely have announced a Very Special Session, since we apparently haven't done enough to purify public bathrooms of the suspicion of lurking transgenderism. The notion that the great state of Texas should spend our public time, money, and community energy policing bathroom preferences is more pathetic than comical, but we lost any claim to being a serious republic when we elected a reality-TV clown as our president. Satire has long since been outrun by reality.

Abbott, you will recall, proffered a gun-range "joke" last week just after he'd signed a bill making it easier and cheaper for Texas gun fetishists to indulge their juvenile fantasies in public. The governor brandished his bullet-holed target as a potential deterrent to impertinent reporters – the sort of tactlessness more commonly associated with his coyote-blasting predecessor, but increasingly the norm among Republican politicians.

That was followed by the shameful sine die scuffle on the floor of the House, during which Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, apparently suggested that his race-baiting colleague, Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, take the immigration argument outside, and Rinaldi responded (by his own admission) that should they do so, Rinaldi would be armed and ready. We'll likely never know precisely what happened between the two reps, but more than one observer has noted that if women were represented more equally in the Lege, there would be fewer exchanges of empty macho bluster.

Recall that this is not even the first time that Nevárez (an avid gun owner himself) has been subject to threats of gun violence. During the last session, he and his staff were confronted in his office by armed fanatics, and he was the target of death threats for "treason" for not supporting "constitutional carry" – i.e., the unfettered right to carry and brandish weapons wherever and whenever.

Three Days' Worth

It seems like a good moment to make our periodic visit to the Gun Violence Archive (www.gunviolencearchive.org), that quixotic but admirable research effort to document and catalog every U.S. incident of gun violence. If nothing else, the archive provides an almost real-time snapshot of the utopia promised by "Second Amend­ment" advocates when virtually everyone will carry a weapon. (Actually, we don't have to look even that far: On Sunday, a dispute between two men at an Austin apartment complex turned nearly deadly when one pulled out a gun and "shot his friend," the Statesman reported.)

As of Wednesday morning, the archive had posted 15 pages of shooting incidents nationwide – just under 25 incidents per page, or nearly 400 shootings – during the previous 72 hours. On the ever-expanding chart, I hand-counted 104 dead during those 72 hours; there were countless injured. There were apparently no official "mass shootings" or "mass murders" in that time – defined as four or more injured or dead, an understandably high bar – although a few shootings left two dead, and one (Greenville, Texas, May 30) ended the lives of three people. (According to the sketchy initial reports, that incident featured a shootout, allegedly including two bounty hunters pretending to be federal agents. Sounds like a ready-made noir.)

In all, from May 29 to 31, my unscientific count for Texas totals eight shootings and eight dead (unevenly distributed). Perhaps a fairly quiet Memorial holiday.

The American Way

Is there a point to this ongoing massacre, or indeed in recounting the carnage? The daily U.S. deaths from gun violence of course dwarf by many orders of magnitude any casualties from alleged "terrorism," yet the latter is much more the obsession of our state and national politics. The archive has counted more than 25,000 shooting incidents in 2017, more than 6,200 deaths, 12,200 injuries (and it's very much a moving target). There have been 138 mass shootings, and also a few "defensive uses" – 864, or just over 3% of the 2017 incidents.

How do our public officials respond to this daily bang, bang, bang of mayhem? Why, by making it easier for every Tom, Dick, and Harry (and yes, it's overwhelmingly men) to get their hands on handguns, which have no purpose other than to kill or maim. And frankly, even more than gun availability, it's gun culture and gun fetishism – the reflexive recourse to gun threats, gun worship, and overarching militarism above all – that are at the root of our national eagerness to resort to violence, and then (officially and unofficially) to ignore the consequences, here or elsewhere.

The folks behind the nonprofit, nonideological Gun Violence Archive are to be applauded for pursuing this difficult and mostly thankless work, and for providing an ongoing resource for citizens and researchers hoping to comprehend, and better understand, the daily, weekly, yearly toll of U.S. gun violence. Unlikely as it seems, one day it might even make a useful difference at the Capitol and in Congress.

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guns, Greg Abbott, Matt Rinaldi, Poncho Nevárez

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