“April is the cruelest month,” the poet has written. True enough in an existential sense, and yet this year we are inclined to differ. Like bluebonnets springing up along Texas roadsides, signs of glorious post-pandemic life are reemerging. Life is gradually returning to normal.
And yet, normal in this nation means routine, incessant unmitigated killing — of each other and of ourselves. In a sense, T.S. Eliot was closer to correct than he might have imagined. April this year is as cruel as any other April.
“Normal” the past few weeks includes the following:
In a Minneapolis suburb — barely 10 miles from where a Minneapolis police officer is on trial for the death of George Floyd — a young man trying to elude a traffic stop for a minor offense dies when a veteran police officer fires a bullet into his chest, which she has called an accident, claiming she meant to fire her Taser.
In the Dallas suburb of Allen, a young man murders five members of his family and then kills himself with a gun.
In Pleasant Grove, another Dallas suburb, a 9-year-old shoots and kills his 11-year-old brother.
In Bryan, a gunman kills a person and wounds at least five others — four of them critically — at a cabinet manufacturer where he apparently worked.
In April and beyond in this COVID-worn nation, suicide has become the second-leading cause of death among Americans between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This month we learn that right-wing terrorism is at an all-time high in this country.
In a nation with more guns than people, the through line linking all these awful incidents is not police reform or mental-health measures or classes in gun safety, as vital as those initiatives are. It is guns.
We have vastly more gun deaths, including suicides, than any developed nation in the world — because we have more guns, 400 million guns for 330 million people. Each day in the U.S., more than 300 people are shot; more than 100 of them die.
No wonder a police officer walking up to an idling car is anxious. In a nation awash in guns, who knows what’s inside a glove compartment, underneath a seat? In a nation awash in guns, a person attempting suicide is almost sure to be successful, if a gun is used. In a nation awash in guns, a gun at home is more likely to result in an accidental death (or a suicide) than in repelling an intruder. Compared with Canada, with Great Britain, with Japan, with New Zealand, with Australia, our gun fetish is anything but normal.
Guns are on the minds of Texas lawmakers this session. The Republicans in charge are eager to make them more accessible, not less.
No permit? No training? No problem. That’s the gist of House Bill 1911 sponsored by state Rep. James White, an East Texas Republican. White insists Second Amendment rights are more important than safety classes, or permits that might weed out those with no business being anywhere near a gun.
With the enthusiastic endorsement of Gov. Greg Abbott, White’s “constitutional carry” bill is likely to become law, after near misses in recent sessions. The governor made expanding gun rights a priority this session, the first since mass shootings in Midland-Odessa and El Paso killed dozens of Texans. Never mind that nearly every police association statewide oppose laws making guns even more ubiquitous. In Abbott’s view, and in the view of many in his party, our Second Amendment rights trump life itself.
We began with muzzle-flashes of death. We’ll conclude with glimmers of life:
President Joe Biden last week unveiled several actions to curb what he called “an epidemic” of gun violence. They included an effort to regulate so-called “ghost guns,” made from kits with no serial numbers. He directed the Justice Department to propose a rule for regulating stabilizing braces for AR-style pistols; and to issue annual reports on gun trafficking, something that hasn’t been done in 20 years.
The White House also will develop a model red-flag law for states that will allow law enforcement and family members to remove firearms from individuals who are at risk to themselves and others. Biden also proposed making changes in several federal grant programs to prioritize funding for community violence intervention efforts.
The president acknowledged that his executive orders are modest efforts to address a major national crisis. He insists they’re just a beginning.
In Austin, state Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston, is expanding on the good work of so-called “violence interrupters” by sponsoring legislation that would establish the Office of Violence Prevention. His House Bill 1589 would assist groups working to reduce preventable injuries and deaths from all forms of physical violence, including guns.
The proposed office would establish violence prevention as a public health issue and would be housed, not in a law enforcement agency, but in the Texas Department of Health Services.
Rosenthal’s effort, like Biden’s, is modest and well-intentioned, but it might have a flicker of a chance in the Texas Legislature because of its community-based focus. It has nothing to do with gun control.
Here in Texas, bluebonnets are usually gone by May. Guns are not. And across the country the killings continue. In this “cruel” month and beyond, Rosenthal’s proposal — and Biden’s — are certainly worth a try.