Republicans’ school shooting playbook: Protect the guns! / by Berry Craig

Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, from left, Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speak to reporters about their proposed gun ownership legislation in Washington, March 16, 2023. | J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Originally published in the People’s World on April 18, 2023


“The GOP has a well-established playbook for the aftermath of a school shooting: thoughts, prayers, and protecting the guns,” The Rolling Stone’s Nikki McCann Ramirez wrote after the latest mass slaying in which a heavily armed attacker murdered three adults and three children at a private Christian school in Nashville.

Police shot and killed the attacker.

Brian Clardy is a Christian who believes in the power of prayer, but the Murray State University historian is fed up with the stock Republican response to mass shootings.

“Thoughts and prayers do nothing to stop the violence,” said Clardy, an Episcopalian who’s for banning AR-15 military-style assault weapons that are often used in mass slayings.

“I’d like to think that the God I believe in would say, ‘To hell with your thoughts and prayers—I don’t want to hear it; I’ve had enough,’” the professor declared in anger and frustration.

Progressive radio host and New York Times best-selling author Thom Hartmann shares Clardy’s horror at another slaughter and his outrage at the GOP for offering more “thoughts and prayers” but no concrete action to stop the bloodshed.

“Many Americans are baffled,” Hartmann wrote in his online column. “Why, they ask, would Republicans refuse to act when semiautomatic weapons designed for the battlefield are used against our children? When we’ve had 38 school shootings—and over 100 mass shootings—all using semiautomatic battlefield-style weapons in the first 90 days of this year?

“Why…do they insist that nothing can be done about the plague of these weapons when every other civilized country in the world has outlawed or heavily regulated them?”

When he was a senator in 2004, President Joe Biden helped Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., pass an assault weapons ban, which lapsed in 2014. They want another one and so do most Democrats. Most Republicans don’t.

Some in the GOP House majority defiantly sport miniature AR-15 lapel pins. The Republican Senate minority is large enough to stop any significant gun control bill via filibuster.

“The [Nashville] massacre marked the 19th shooting at a school or university in just the past three months that left at least one person wounded,” CNN’s Eric Levenson reported. “It was among 130 mass shootings this year in the U.S. with at least four wounded, excluding the shooting, and it was the deadliest U.S. school shooting since last May’s massacre in Uvalde, Texas, left 21 people dead.”

Every time, Republican politicians rush in front of TV cameras to repeat the “thoughts and prayers” mantra. “But many of these same lawmakers have been glamorizing high-powered guns and working to ensure they are easily accessible,” Ramirez also wrote.

Under Tennessee’s lax gun laws, the shooter was able to buy legally seven firearms in local stores, including a semiautomatic pistol and two AR-15 style semiautomatic weapons used in the killings.

Since 2012, the AR-15, a civilian version of the military M-16 automatic rifle, has been employed in 10 of the 17 most lethal mass murders in the country, according to a Washington Post editorial in support of banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

“Now, about 1 in 20 U.S. adults own at least one AR-15. That’s roughly 16 million people, storing roughly 20 million guns designed to mow down enemies on the battlefield with brutal efficiency,” the paper editorialized. “Two-thirds of these were crafted in the past decade—and when more people die, popularity doesn’t fall. Instead, it rises.”

Like the M-16, the main U.S. infantry weapon since the Vietnam War, the AR-15 “fires very small bullets at very fast speeds,” the editorial added. “The projectiles don’t move straight and smooth through human targets like those from a traditional handgun. Their velocity turns them unstable upon penetration so that they tumble through flesh and vital organs. This so-called blast effect literally tears people apart.”

Clardy grew up in a gun-owning family in rural northwest Tennessee. “You might have a handgun to protect yourself and your home against burglars, or have a shotgun or a rifle to go hunting,” he said. “But unless you are in the active military in a combat situation, you don’t need an assault rifle.

“It’s useless for hunting. It tears the meat apart. So, the only conclusion I can draw is that if you have an assault rifle, you are thinking about killing someone someday.”

Republicans also found the Nashville shooting handy for stepping up anti-transgender pandering to their MAGA base. After police identified the shooter as trans, Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, and other Trump loyalists claimed—falsely—that transgender shootings were on the rise.

Though nearly 98% of all U.S. mass shooters are male, some “pundits and political influencers on social media went further, suggesting that movements for trans rights are radicalizing activists into terrorists,” wrote the Associated Press’s Sophia Tulp.

Gender and criminology experts say the data proves Vance and his ilk wrong. “Mass casualty shootings perpetrated by someone identifying as trans or nonbinary are rare, and in fact, those groups are far more likely to be the victims of violence,” according to Tulp.

“People like Vance and [Rep.] Marjorie Taylor Greene [R-Ga.] should be ashamed of themselves, but of course, they aren’t,” Clardy said.

Gun laws are much looser in America than in other industrial democracies. As a result, the U.S., by far, ranks first in gun homicides among “high income countries and territories with populations of 10 million or more,” according to the United Nations (which, of course, the far right has long denounced as “anti-American.”)

“With our nation awash in guns, the rate of gun violence on a per capita basis in the United States, at 120 killings per 100,000 people, is massively higher than in any other fully developed nation in the world,” Hartmann wrote in his timely-as-ever 2019 book, The Hidden History of Guns and the Second Amendment. “In Japan, the odds of a person being killed by a gun are the same as those of being hit by lightning: one in 10 million. In England and Poland, it’s one in a million; and in countries with widespread (although reasonable) levels of gun ownership, like Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands, it’s one in two million. In the United States, there are 96 gun-based deaths a day, every day of the year.”

No matter, almost all Republicans—most of them beneficiaries of NRA endorsements and campaign cash—vehemently oppose virtually any form of gun control. They tirelessly trot out the old refrain, “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.”

On March 13, 1996, a gunman broke into a Dunblane, Scotland, grade school and murdered 16 children and a teacher, and wounded 15 others. “In the aftermath of the shooting, parents in Dunblane were able to mobilize with the kind of effectiveness that has eluded American gun control activists,” wrote NPR’s Ari Shapiro, Patrick Jarenwattananon, and Manuela López Restrepo after the 2022 elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that claimed the lives of 19 students and two teachers.

“By the following year, Parliament had banned private ownership of most handguns, as well as semi-automatic weapons, and required mandatory registration for shotgun owners. There have been no school shootings in the U.K. since then.”

Nor have there been any since the NPR story.

“What most Americans don’t realize,” Hartmann also wrote in his column, “is that our gun problem is simply a visible manifestation of our Trump-fueled fascism problem.”

Asked Clardy: “Who is benefitting from this gun violence in America? It’s not the children killed in school shootings. It’s the gun manufacturers, the lobbyists from gun groups like the NRA, and the politicians. It’s not the rest of us. The rest of us are dying.”


Berry Craig, Lifelong Kentuckian, is an emeritus professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance writer. He is a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360, recording secretary for the Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council, webmaster-editor for the Kentucky State AFL-CIO, and a member of the state AFL-CIO Executive Board. His ninth book on the history of his state, “Kentuckians and Pearl Harbor: Stories from the Day of Infamy,” was published by the University Press of Kentucky in November 2020.