© 2022 Aspen Public Radio
APR20_webHeader_FallVersion9-08-2020 copy
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Another senseless act of gun violence hits an elementary school in Texas

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Second, third and fourth graders in a Texas elementary school were counting down the days until summer vacation. There were end-of-the-year celebrations planned this week with themed days. Kids would dress up. Yesterday's theme was Footloose and Fancy. And what started as a normal day ended in the killings of 19 children and two adults. Here's a mother recounting what happened yesterday when she was inside that school.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Through interpreter) I saw a bunch of kids that were full of blood. And I was trying to get my daughter, but I couldn't get her out because she was - she had to stay in school.

FADEL: This scene in Uvalde - it's all achingly familiar, especially for those who have lived through other school shootings, people like David Hogg. A gunman walked into his high school in Parkland, Fla., in 2018 and started shooting. He survived. Seventeen other people did not. Hogg is now one of the most prominent voices advocating for gun control in the U.S., and I spoke with him this morning.

So I just want to start with what's going through your head right now as you watch yet another mass killing, this time in an elementary school.

DAVID HOGG: I'm horrified. In the aftermath of Parkland, we went out there - I was 17 years old at the time - and we said, we're the kids. You're the adults. You need to do something. And those same adults said, well, you're about to be 18. You need to go out and vote, and we did. We voted at one of the highest rates in American history in 2018 for young people in a non-presidential midterm and played a critical role, amongst other factors, of course, in turning out - the highest youth voter turnout in American history in 2020. And despite the House changing, the Senate changing and the White House changing, not a single gun law - or any law for that matter around addressing gun violence, even not related to guns - has passed in the federal government. And it's horrifying because I think the assumption that we made when we started this work in 2018 is that our government was at least halfway competent at all in order to address, at minimum, the thing that is killing our kids, which is gun violence.

FADEL: I mean, the sad thing is is how familiar it all is, right? I mean, since the mass shooting that took so many people from your high school, there have been so many more.

HOGG: Right.

FADEL: You wrote a book at the time, "NeverAgain."

HOGG: Right.

FADEL: And it's happened many times since. What do you want the response to be today that was different than what it was when it happened to your school?

HOGG: You know, in the wake of what happened at my school, there was so much insane division that I think we saw, across the country, extreme polarization. And I think what we need in this instance - although I'm not from this community, of course, and I'm not from Buffalo, too - which also just happened and, like, unfortunately isn't being talked about nearly as much, too.

FADEL: Less than two weeks ago.

HOGG: Right. We, as Americans, need to realize that, you know, Democrats, Republicans, gun owners, non-gun owners - we have been debating this issue for decades, and this is where it has brought us is now over a dozen - I don't even want to call them kids. They're babies that have been eviscerated by this issue in a way that doesn't happen in any other country in this matter, especially any high-income country. We have to - we know what we don't agree on. Let's focus on what we can agree on, even if tiny, even if just saves one life. I'm not saying it's going to completely eradicate gun violence. But even if it just saves one life, we need to figure out what we can get Senate Republicans to agree on and people that are - at least claim to be Democrats, like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, and figure out what we can do. Again, it's not going to solve this issue entirely, but we got to start somewhere.

FADEL: You said that after the shooting at your high school, there was extreme polarization. And, if anything, that's deepened today.

HOGG: Right.

FADEL: When you talk about the one thing that we can all agree on or that they can all agree on, what would that be? What is your message for lawmakers right now? What do you want them to agree on today that could make a difference?

HOGG: I mean, look, I think the No. 1 thing that we - that most of us can agree on as Americans is something as simple as universal background checks. Now, I don't know if it would - it's too early to tell, you know, if it would make a difference in this situation or a number of, you know, others. But the reality is, even if we can just save one life, it will be worth it. We have to figure out what we can agree on as Americans. And I believe that could be something like background checks. But I think it's important to highlight, as well, in the wake of Parkland, we passed gun laws in the Florida State Legislature despite it being entirely Republican-controlled. And the reason why we were able to do that is because we mobilized with young people and got in the rooms with the lawmakers and showed them just a small amount of the trauma and impact that this has on a community - by young teenagers, in our case, talking to those state legislatures. In this case, that's not possible because these kids are so young.

And I think what we need to address - you know, after Parkland, we raised the age to 21 to buy an assault rifle in the state of Florida. And on top of that, we created an extremist protection order law and we met Republicans in the middle. And there are some things in the bill that we passed that I do not agree with. But ultimately, we met and we actually did something. And it was something that saved lives. Did it eradicate gun violence entirely? Definitely not. But it did have a reduction. In an American democracy and a representative democracy like we have in our country, we do things through compromise and advocate for them, even if it's a reduction and not a total eradication. We need to take a comprehensive, bipartisan, public health-based approach to addressing this issue and take just one step - just one. That's all I'm asking for.

FADEL: President Biden spoke to the country last night and asked why. Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen? What's your answer to the president's question?

HOGG: I think the reason why we continue to let this happen is because we act like just letting our politicians - frankly, both Democrats and Republicans. I personally believe that although Democrats have obviously, in my view, done more for this issue than Republicans have, I think both are complacent. You know, both have been in power in the wake of these mass shootings, and both have failed to pass any gun law at the federal level in years. And what we, as Americans, need to do is hold them accountable and demand - and not let, frankly, the media and these politicians just move on from this and act like it's not going to happen again.

Because I will tell you right now, until we act in a comprehensive matter or just at all, period, on how to address gun violence, even just - if it's just what we can agree on and it's small, the next Sandy Hook, the next Parkland, the next Las Vegas, the next San Bernardino, the next San Diego, the next El Paso, the next Buffalo, the next, you know, Mother Emanuel Church, the - I could go on and on. It's going to happen, until we act in a comprehensive matter, even if just small in the first - in a first step, through something like background checks.

FADEL: David Hogg is a survivor of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., and a gun control advocate, and he joined us by Skype. Thank you so much for your time.

HOGG: Thank you. I appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOM ASHBROOK'S "TACTUS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.