I received a text message from a friend who knew one of the victims from the Santa Fe High School shooting, and she asked if I’d like to attend the vigil on May 20. Shocked and overwhelmed, I agreed to come with her to honor those who had passed away the day before.When I first arrived at League City’s Walter Hall Park, I passed by an opportunistic sno-cone truck looking to make a profit on the bereaved. One of the truck’s decals read “2 Cool 4 School,” which neatly sums up where we are as a nation.
Thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers. Those words dominate my social media feed every time a mass shooting occurs. But the thousands who offered all those thoughts and prayers were not at the vigil, and there was no excuse since League City is just half an hour away.
In the aftermath of the tragedy in Santa Fe, global attention shifted from the shooting to the Royal Wedding. The nation’s eyes were fixed on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as most turned their backs on the carnage and horror. Thousands of stories covered extraneous aspects of the wedding: Was Meghan Markle’s dress one size too big? What happened to the Airbnb where Meghan Markle’s father watched his daughter’s wedding on TV? What was the “magic word” that got all 10 kids of the royal family to behave for their portrait?
Why should I care when an expelled student entered Santa Fe High School and killed 10 people the morning before the wedding? Ten lives, 10 friends, 10 sons and daughters. Between them, there are dozens of family members, hundreds of friends and thousands of classmates whose lives will never be the same because of somebody else’s desire to feel in control. Why are we not talking about the shooting in the way that we talked about the Parkland shooting back in February? Is it because fewer lives were lost (like that should matter)? Is it because we’d rather be distracted by the wedding than face the harsh reality? Have school shootings become so common that they are normalized? Is the nation already sick of talking about guns?
We cannot expect the nation to engage in a genuine and effective discourse about gun control when we, as Texans, refuse to initiate that conversation, even after so many have died so close to home.
We failed to do anything after the Sutherland Springs shooting killed 26 in a rural Texas church. Yet again the silence in the wake of the Santa Fe shooting has been deafening. USA Today reported that a survivor of the shooting cited the “political climate” and the need to give the community “time to heal” as factors in her decision not to advocate for stronger gun control.
Our state loves guns. At the time of the Santa Fe shooting, Governor Greg Abbott’s re-election campaign website had an offer to “Win a Texas-Made Shotgun” and in the aftermath of the shooting, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick suggested that perhaps too many entrances were to blame.
The fact is, for many of us, guns are ingrained in our family traditions, our love of hunting, our history of needing protection in the wide open spaces of Texas.
We’re at a crossroads — do we love our guns or our children more? Are we more entitled to the right to bear arms or are the tens of thousands of people who die of gun violence each year entitled to their lives?
According to a congressional study, Americans own 48 percent of civilian-owned guns in the world. The gun homicide rates in the United States are more than 25 times higher than in other high-income nations. Even when shooters are eventually stopped by a “good guy with a gun,” it doesn’t prevent the shootings from happening in the first place. At Sutherland Springs, 26 lives were lost before the shooter was himself shot.
Texas has some of the most lax gun rules in the country: gun license applicants are not required to submit their mental health history, residents have the right to openly carry handguns in most places, including churches and college campuses, and background checks are not required for private firearms sales.
But Texas isn’t the frontier anymore. It boasts a robust industrial economy and a booming population. It no longer houses scattered, isolated families living in rural and largely unregulated communities. It’s home to vulnerable children who attend school every day, While guns once offered necessary protection, they have become weapons of mass destruction. Society has evolved, and Texas needs to stop living in the past.
That’s not to say all have remained silent — on May 22, dozens of Santa Fe students ran a full-page advertisement addressed to Gov. Abbott that appeared in the Houston Chronicle. It stated, “We are dying on your watch. What will you do about it?”
Back at the vigil, one adult said that the shooting left the Santa Fe community in a dark room, but if the town comes together to illuminate the room, light will always overcome the darkness. Darkness never wins.
It’s a lovely sentiment. But as long as Texans continue to remember the Alamo but forget about all the recent episodes of gun violence, it feels more and more like the darkness is indeed winning.