Moment that mattered: Twenty-one people die in a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas
In issue 47 we talked to Jaclyn Corin, activist and co-founder of March for our Lives, about a tragic shooting in the US
24th May 2022 (Taken from: #47)
On 24th May, 19 children and two teachers were killed in the deadliest school shooting in the US for a decade. The pupils shot dead at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, were aged between nine and 11. Eighteen-year-old Salvador Ramos, who shot his grandmother in the head before driving to the school to carry out the massacre, was killed by the police more than an hour after he entered the building.
“I feel a lot of emotions when mass shootings happen,” says gun control advocate Jaclyn Corin, who survived a similar event at her school in Parkland, Florida in 2018. “But the first emotion is always anger because our elected officials have had the opportunity to fix this problem time and time again… We’ve given them plenty of solutions to this problem, and proof that they work, and it’s infuriating when they continue to refuse to implement them. They understand the consequences of their inaction and they don’t care.”
Four and a half years ago, Corin hid in a classroom for several hours while a former student murdered 17 of her Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School classmates, including close friends. Within days Corin was a key member of student-led advocacy group Never Again MSD, and later became a driving force of March for our Lives, the biggest gun control protest in US history, with hundreds of thousands of people gathering in Washington DC and other cities on 24th March 2018.
After the Uvalde massacre – and a racist mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, ten days earlier in which ten black people were killed – Corin, now a politics student at Harvard but still deeply involved with March for our Lives’ ongoing activism, decided the time was right to march in the US capital again. “It was a unique moment where gun violence prevention was being talked about so much, and we were tracking Americans’ opinions on supporting comprehensive background checks and it’s the highest it’s been since the shooting at my school,” she says. “The emotion and momentum was there so we figured, let’s do this again and see if we can make a difference.” On an overcast day in June 2022 tens of thousands of people gathered in Washington DC and across the US to rally for gun reform. “There’s something uniquely powerful about seeing 50,000 people come together in the nation’s capital,” says Corin.
That emotion and momentum on gun violence prevention also led to a modest breakthrough in Congress. A couple of weeks after the June rally, President Biden signed into law the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. There will now be enhanced background checks for under-21s buying guns and federal funding for community violence prevention efforts, but the act was a compromise, with many proposals by gun control advocates, such as a ban on assault weapons, left out. “It wasn’t enough but I’m grateful because we hadn’t seen any significant gun violence prevention laws passed for 30 years before this,” says Corin. “These policies will save lives but we always need to see more. We need to see universal comprehensive background checks. We need to see a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that allow rifles to fire many bullets at once. But this was a good start. It’s just devastating that it took the murder of children to get this to happen.” On 30th August, while unveiling his ‘Safer America’ plan to combat violence, President Biden said he was “determined” to achieve an assault weapons ban during his presidency.
While 14 Republican senators broke ranks to vote for the act, the vast majority of GOP lawmakers opposed the bill. Meanwhile, powerful gun-owners’ organisation the National Rifle Association (NRA), which controversially held its annual convention in Texas just a few days after the Uvalde shooting, continues to hold sway over many elected officials. It argues that gun control measures won’t lead to a reduction in America’s gun violence, which far exceeds that of other wealthy nations.
How could you look at people dying and not implement every policy in the book to prevent it happening again?”
In a speech to the NRA convention Donald Trump called for trained teachers to carry concealed weapons in classrooms. “The idea of arming teachers is ridiculous,” says Corin. “Our teachers already deal with enough. They’re not paid adequately, they don’t have access to adequate resources, and to ask them to train to use a firearm is a ridiculous ask – and a very dangerous one too… More guns will always lead to more violence. Time and time again we’ve disproven the [NRA’s] argument that a good guy with a gun will stop a bad guy with a gun. In Buffalo there was an armed security guard at the grocery store [where the massacre happened] and that didn’t stop almost a dozen people losing their lives.”
“We’ve also seen the awful videos coming out of Uvalde where there were tons of armed officers standing outside the school, not going in,” Corin continues. On 17th July a Texas House report on the shooting blamed “multiple systemic failures” for the 77-minute gap between almost 400 police arriving on the scene and entering the school to confront the gunman. A month later local police chief Pete Arredondo, who had defended his force’s confused response, lost his job. “Obviously it’s disgraceful that they [Uvalde law enforcement] didn’t enter, but it comes down to fear,” adds Corin. “They are trained in their jobs to confront people [like the shooter] but sometimes fear gets in the way of all the training… We need to work at the root of the problem, which is why these people can access guns in the first place.”
During those hectic months in 2018, Corin and her March for our Lives colleagues believed they would be able to put a stop to people like Ramos, who had bought two assault rifles on his 18th birthday, legally obtaining lethal weapons. The reality was a harsh lesson. “I thought it was going to take a year or two to solve gun violence in the US,” she recalls. “Because how could you look at 17 people dying at a public high school in Florida and not implement every single policy in the book to prevent it happening again? I couldn’t imagine that people could be so selfish as to not implement policies that are proven to work. It was a devastating realisation that some people in our government are not inherently good.”
On 27th August, March for our Lives held a rally in Austin, Texas, with parents who lost their children in Uvalde. “Parkland people stood ground with Uvalde community members, which was beautiful but also… these connections should never have to exist,” Corin says.
What advice can Parkland offer to Uvalde? “It’s tough to tell the Uvalde community members that it’s going to get better because there are still days when it feels like [the Parkland shooting happened] yesterday. I’m doing better some weeks and months and then other weeks and months I feel like I’m 17 years old again, hiding in my classroom.”
“What I would say to Uvalde community members is that their voice is incredibly impactful,” Corin continues. “By giving people the emotional appeal of my experience it forces them to consider that gun violence is affecting someone they know, it’s not a distant issue… So I’d say tell your story, say how you feel and say what you want to be done because you have so much power. I’d also tell them to lean on other community members – there is a connection I have with friends from high school that can’t be replicated. The people I was with that day I will always keep close to me because we all went through something awful together and there’s a camaraderie that’s needed in the healing process.” On 22nd June the mayor of Uvalde, Don McLaughlin, announced that Robb Elementary School would be demolished. “It’s important those kids stay connected to each other when they go to different schools,” says Corin. “They are going through an incredible amount of trauma and they will need a lot of support to work through it and heal.”
Along with anger at the inaction of elected officials, the other dominant emotion Corin feels when she hears about school shootings is an intense “sadness for what I know the community will be going through.”
“There will be people waiting for hours to find out if their loved ones are still alive,” she says. “There will be people who lose their best friends, their brothers, their sisters, their teachers and their children – and there’s so much grief in that. After the shooting in Parkland we said ‘never again’ and while it’s not our fault we weren’t able to live up to that promise, it’s so devastating that we weren’t able to get it done.”
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