That’s how long it takes before the public’s anger begins to dissipate after a mass shooting, according to two scholars at Princeton University. It’s now over 24 hours after an 18-year-old gunman slaughtered 19 schoolchildren and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, and the national conversation over what to do next has already fallen into a familiar pattern.
Democrats are demanding action. Republicans are trying to change the subject. And time is running out before the country’s attention inevitably turns elsewhere.
For a paper published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Patrick Sharkey and Yinzhi Shen of Princeton examined Gallup surveys of Americans’ self-reported emotions in the days before and after a mass shooting.
The more horrific the massacre, they found, the greater the emotional impact on the local community. The response for Democrats was larger — a 50-percentage-point increase in sadness, versus a 20-point rise for Republicans — but the sense of devastation went away at the same rapid rate.
“The feeling we’re all feeling today, with this dark cloud hanging over us, it’s just not possible to carry that weight for weeks and months,” Sharkey said in an interview. “I think that’s just an observation about how human emotions work.”
‘We’ve been burned so many times before’
Democrats on Capitol Hill are well aware of the urgency, but are also deeply skeptical that Republicans will work with them in good faith, as my colleague Jonathan Weisman reports. They have bitter memories of past attempts to pass federal gun-safety legislation, and for good reason.
In 2013, a bill to expand background checks for gun purchases failed after 26 children and staff members were murdered the previous year at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
In 2019, after back-to-back shootings killed more than 30 people in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, The New York Times reported that Republicans were “coalescing around legislation to help law enforcement take guns from those who pose an imminent danger” — so-called red-flag laws.
President Donald Trump expressed support for that idea, among others, in a White House address. But he never put real pressure on Republicans to act, and Senator Mitch McConnell, who controlled the Senate at the time, waited until the public furor faded before quietly moving on to other topics.
On Wednesday, Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic majority leader, cautiously left open the door for movement.
“My Republican colleagues can work with us now,” he said. “I think it’s a slim prospect. Very slim, all too slim. We’ve been burned so many times before.”
He added: “But this is so important. We must pursue action and even ask Republicans to join us again.”
Democrats’ current plan, according to aides close to Senate leadership, is to explore bipartisan talks, led by Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, while being fully prepared for those conversations to lead nowhere.
“I’ve asked Senator Schumer for the space to have that conversation over the next 10 days,” Murphy told reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday. “And I think over the course of a week and a half, we’ll know whether there’s an opportunity to get a bipartisan bill or not.”
In one possible indicator of the futility of such discussions, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a leading supporter of red-flag laws on the state level, said separately on Wednesday, “I can’t assure the American people there’s any law we can pass that would have stopped this shooting.”
On Thursday, a vote to close off debate on the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, a bill originally intended as a response to the other recent mass shooting, in Buffalo, is expected to run into a Republican filibuster. So would yet-to-be-scheduled votes on strengthening background checks, as Schumer seemed to acknowledge in his remarks on Wednesday.
Fury and helplessness
It’s hard to say whether the frustration among Democrats has reached new heights — it was already pretty darn high. But expressions of fury and helplessness are everywhere since the shooting on Tuesday.
In the hours after the massacre, Representative Ruben Gallego of Arizona hurled a series of epithets on Twitter at Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, who had accused Democrats of seeking to “politicize” what happened. Gallego called Cruz “useless” and a “baby killer.”
In Texas on Wednesday, Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic candidate for governor, confronted Gov. Greg Abbott at a news conference. O’Rourke said the shooting was “totally predictable” and accused Abbott, his Republican opponent, of “doing nothing” to address the problem. An official onstage called O’Rourke an expletive, and Abbott chastised him after he was ushered out by the police.
“There are family members who are crying as we speak,” Abbott said. “Think about the people who are hurt and help those who are hurt.”
As O’Rourke was leaving, he said, “Somebody needs to stand up for the children of this state, or they will continue to be killed.”
On the ground in Texas
Our colleague Jazmine Ulloa, who grew up in El Paso and is a native Spanish speaker, is in Uvalde, where she spoke with family members as they learned the fate of their children.
We spoke by phone as she was racing to flesh out the portrait of their killer. Our conversation, condensed and edited for clarity, is below.
What did you see yesterday when you got to town?
When I arrived at the civic center that was serving as a hub for the school community, it was already dark. It was a hot and muggy night, with a thunderstorm a few hours away from rolling in, and families were clustered around their vehicles in the parking lot. It was large families, uncles and aunts and grandparents and cousins.
Many of them were just hearing the news that their children were gone. People were weeping and embracing and you could hear the agony, like it was just tearing through the air.
Some parents were struggling to walk back to their cars after hearing the news; they were leaning on loved ones. There was one woman who fell to her knees and kind of folded over the passenger’s seat of the car. She was sobbing and couldn’t get up.
You’ve covered mass shootings before. Was there anything that leaped out at you that was different about this one?
Yeah, the El Paso shooting happened five minutes from my high school. With this one, I think what’s different is how young the victims are. That they’re children is just the most crushing thing. And it’s even harder to process.
Last night, I saw the news that President Biden’s remarks on the shooting were booed at Herschel Walker’s victory party in Georgia. And I was in the parking lot with these parents, who were feeling so much pain. I don’t know what to call it — it was a jarring juxtaposition.
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