I was supposed to be attending CHARGE: Energy Branding this week in Houston. It’s a conference on energy marketing for the utility and energy industries to which I had received a free pass as a representative of my company. Especially in the post-COVID reawakening, the idea of traveling somewhere new is quite exciting to me. It’s also especially valuable for me to be thinking about connecting with potential strategic partners for my company as we work to define the future of utility programs focused on decarbonization. There’s so much interesting stuff going on right now, and I was honestly pretty stoked. But I opted not to attend for a couple of reasons, the most significant of which was that I cannot in good conscience bring my business to the state of Texas right now, where the Uvalde school shooting left 22 dead, mostly schoolchildren, to a chorus of Thoughts And Prayers from Republican legislators around the country.
Thoughts, Prayers, and Death
No amount of thoughts and prayers are going to curb this country’s epidemic of gun violence, and Greg Abbott and the rest of the Republican Party embracing this paradigm of inaction coupled with this age-old mantra of “thoughts and prayers” is simply not going to move the needle at all. We know this. The Uvalde school shooting is unique, however, in that it highlights not only problems with mental health and easy access to especially lethal firearms, but also problems with policing in general that I’ve written about extensively in the past.
Among the various levels of policy failure, the Uvalde school shooting tragedy is:
- A failure of policing. We’ve seen countless examples of Uvalde police changing their story about the shooting and even lying about it. They’ve also even threatened journalists covering the story. This is a classic move from the police playbook, of course. But it gets so much worse when you look at how many times the story has changed and how many times the police have actively obstructed the quest for the truth. This is also par for the course for police departments– police lying to protect their own and standing in the way of investigations. It gets worse when you look at the fact that Uvalde’s police department eats up 40% of the municipal budget. This is, we can assume, utterly outrageous to parents whose children were massacred at the school.
That the Uvalde shooting has pitted disproportionately Republican state authorities against local police is an extremely unusual occurrence. It’s notable in highlighting the fragmentation that is occurring to highlight the fact that police aren’t actually necessarily the best way to protect society from violence.
- A failure of mental health policy in this country. This is a really vital part of the conversation, and I would even argue that it’s more vital than gun control, differentiating myself from the average liberal perspective on the matter. Guns do make it easier to kill a bunch of people. But I would argue that the staggering rates of inequality in the United States and the extraordinary social distance between humans in our fragmented society are far more to blame than the device of the firearm. And yet, I am still in favor of tighter gun control (see the next point)! Meanwhile, the “what about mental health” people are oddly silent when confronted with the fact that Ronald Reagan– who may well have been the original Thoughts and Prayers utterer himself– was singlehandedly responsible for slashing funding to support mental health.
- A failure of firearm policy. The expiration of the assault weapons ban in 2004 was directly correlated with a drastic increase in mass shootings. However, assault weapons aren’t responsible for the majority of firearm deaths. The majority comes from handguns. Maybe we can think up some solutions to, you know, create some accountability for gun ownership? Don’t worry, gun folks. It won’t result in your guns being taken away. I promise.
- Finally, it’s a failure of Republican government. Greg Abbott has gleefully cheered successes like noted billionaire dipshit antagonist and perennial pot-stirrer Elon Musk relocating his corporate headquarters to the Lone Star state. It’s because of our business-friendly regulatory environment, of course, Abbott will say. Tesla’s relocation happened, of course, not because of Texas’s war on progress, but in spite of it. It’s kind of like how voting for Trump doesn’t make you a racist, but it means you’re okay with racism. Texas AG Ken Paxton– weighing in on this debate quite vibrantly, if not a bit idiotically– is himself mired in controversy, fighting litigation in an increasingly bizarre series of investigations over corruption charges. In spite of this, he won reëlection in a landslide. The government isn’t responsible for violence. But it’s responsible for figuring out how to reduce the incidence of it. The argument to arm teachers in response to the threat of school shootings is simply absurd– not to mention missing the point. That the Uvalde shooting has pitted disproportionately Republican state authorities against local police is an extremely unusual occurrence. It’s notable in highlighting the fragmentation that is occurring to highlight the fact that police aren’t actually necessarily the best way to protect society from violence. That thin blue line is looking pretty faded.
Anyway, I’m not going to be attending, but I do hope to be able to attend a future conference. And in the coming weeks, I’ll be publishing some pieces here (and elsewhere) on some concrete policy ideas about how we can address this issue without running afoul of the Constitution (that pesky Second Amendment, right?!) or the crazies. It will be difficult. But I have faith that it can be done. The victims of the Uvalde school shooting are owed more than thoughts and prayers, and the citizens of Texas at large are owed better leadership at all levels of government. In the meantime, Houston will have to wait. Sorry, Greg.