Aggregating and archiving news from both sides of the aisle.

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19 officers stood in the hallway waiting. Now, 19 children are dead

Preview: • Analysis: States with the most gun violence share one trait

She smeared blood on herself and played dead: 11-year-old reveals chilling details of the massacre

Preview: • More details emerge about the 19 children and 2 teachers killed

Watch: Contentious news conference as official admits failure

Preview: Steven McCraw, director for the Texas Department of Public Safety, says the on-scene commander during the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School made the wrong decision and did not attempt to breach the classroom where the gunman was quickly enough.

'Goodnight': 11-year-old describes what she heard and saw as shooter moved through classroom

Preview: 11-year-old Miah Cerrillo spoke with CNN producer Nora Neus and said a gunman shot her teachers and friends inside a classroom at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. Her family set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for her recovery treatments.

What we know: Here's the latest timeline from authorities

Preview: • Gunman: What we know so far about 18-year-old Salvador Ramos • Analysis: States with the most gun violence share one trait

Video: Singer reveals why he canceled NRA performance

Preview: Grammy Award-winning country singer Larry Gatlin joins CNN's Pamela Brown to discuss why he dropped out of performing at the NRA convention in Houston.

Opinion: What Steve Kerr and Beto O'Rourke are exposing for all the world to see

Preview: Millions of Americans have responded to the horrific mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde with wrenching and public displays of anger, sadness and rage against the nation's broken political system. This latest tragedy comes a little more than one week after 10 people were killed in a racist hate crime that purposefully targeted Buffalo's Black community. The massacre in Uvalde coincided, almost to the day, with the second anniversary of George Floyd's murder.

Photos show chaotic scene as Uvalde students escape

Preview: • 'Joe died of a broken heart': Husband of slain teacher dies two days later

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Delay in breaching classroom during Texas school shooting was "wrong decision," official says - CBS News

Preview: Delay in breaching classroom during Texas school shooting was "wrong decision," official says  CBS News She smeared blood on herself and played dead: 11-year-old reveals chilling details of the massacre  CNN Rep. Gonzales walks back comments from FOX News interview  WOAI ‘It Was the Wrong Decision' to Delay Breaching Classroom: Texas DPS Director Says  NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth Tucker Carlson: Following the Texas elementary school shooting, this is a critical question  Fox News View Full Coverage on Google News

NRA meets in Texas amid protests after school massacre - The Associated Press

Preview: NRA meets in Texas amid protests after school massacre  The Associated Press Musicians cancel performances at upcoming NRA convention in wake of Uvalde shooting  CNN Key Republicans pull out of NRA forum as political pressure mounts  CNN Editorial: NRA show goes on like Uvalde never happened  Houston Chronicle Opinion | The NRA Isn't that Powerful. Its Creed Is.  POLITICO View Full Coverage on Google News

Trump’s Lawsuit Against Letitia James Is Dismissed - The New York Times

Preview: Trump’s Lawsuit Against Letitia James Is Dismissed  The New York Times Trump family must testify in New York fraud investigation, appeals court rules  CBS News New York appeals court rules Trump, Ivanka and Don Jr. must sit for depositions  CNN New York A.G. Can Question Trump Under Oath, Appeals Court Rules  The New York Times Judge dismisses Trump's lawsuit, allowing NY probe to go on  ABC News View Full Coverage on Google News

White House says no decision made on student loan forgiveness - Reuters

Preview: White House says no decision made on student loan forgiveness  Reuters Biden nears decision on student loans as inflation worries mount  CNN Latest White House plan would forgive $10000 in student debt per borrower  The Washington Post Editorial: The problem with college debt is that we never fix the causes  Los Angeles Times Leaked email shows layoffs at major student-loan company Nelnet  Business Insider View Full Coverage on Google News

U.S. may send long-range rocket systems to Ukraine; Russia captures more villages in Donbas - CNBC

Preview: U.S. may send long-range rocket systems to Ukraine; Russia captures more villages in Donbas  CNBC See what its like on Ukraine's front lines in war with Russia  CNN Russia-Ukraine War News: Attacks Intensify, Along With Accusations of Genocide  The New York Times Russia pounds Severodonetsk as fears grow it will become 'like Mariupol'  New York Post Russia's war in Ukraine: Live updates  CNN View Full Coverage on Google News

Prosecution: 'Overwhelming' evidence of guilt for Clinton campaign attorney - POLITICO

Preview: Prosecution: 'Overwhelming' evidence of guilt for Clinton campaign attorney  POLITICO Michael Sussmann jury begins deliberating FBI lying charges  The Washington Post Sussmann lied about Clinton so FBI wouldn't dismiss Trump-Russia tale: feds  New York Post John Durham's case against Michael Sussmann just got tougher  Fox News Jury begins deliberations in trial of former Hillary Clinton lawyer Michael Sussmann  CNN View Full Coverage on Google News

Oz says he's earned 'presumptive Republican nomination,' even as Pennsylvania Senate primary recount kicks off - CNN

Preview: Oz says he's earned 'presumptive Republican nomination,' even as Pennsylvania Senate primary recount kicks off  CNN Dr. Oz jumps the gun, declares himself 'presumptive' GOP Senate nominee  POLITICO Here's why federal court ruled that undated Lehigh County mail-in ballots should be counted  The Morning Call Pennsylvania Senate Race: Oz declares himself presumptive GOP nominee ahead of recount  ABC27 Votes still being counted as McCormick heads to court next Tuesday  CBS Pittsburgh View Full Coverage on Google News

Grand Jury Begins Trump Inquiry in Georgia With Up to 50 Subpoenas - The New York Times

Preview: Grand Jury Begins Trump Inquiry in Georgia With Up to 50 Subpoenas  The New York Times Georgia investigation into Trump's efforts to overturn 2020 election ramps up  Yahoo News First on CNN: Georgia district attorney investigating Trump has subpoenaed officials from secretary of state's office  CNN Trump election probe grand jury to hear from Raffensperger  The Associated Press Department of Justice investigates pro-Trump alternate elector scheme  CBS News View Full Coverage on Google News

Southern Baptist leaders release a previously secret list of accused sexual abusers - NPR

Preview: Southern Baptist leaders release a previously secret list of accused sexual abusers  NPR Southern Baptist Convention releases alleged abusers list for churches to 'proactively' protect the vulnerable  Fox News Georgia pastors, others on Southern Baptist list of alleged abusers   The Atlanta Journal Constitution Opinion: Jesus weeps. Southern Baptist report recommendations don’t go far enough.  Houston Chronicle Editorial: The Southern Baptist blasphemy  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette View Full Coverage on Google News

Biden repeats false claim about trips to Iraq and Afghanistan, this time to graduating midshipmen - Fox News

Preview: Biden repeats false claim about trips to Iraq and Afghanistan, this time to graduating midshipmen  Fox News Joe Biden whispers 'I'm your commander-in-chief' to Naval Academy grads  New York Post Post Politics Now: Speaking to midshipmen, Biden says Putin's brutality toward Ukraine rallied Europe in opposition  The Washington Post Class of 2022 reflects on years at US Naval Academy  WBAL TV Baltimore China President Warned Biden Democracy Is Dying: 'You Don't Have the Time'  Newsweek View Full Coverage on Google News

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No, Sen. Ted Cruz Hasn’t Posted Identical Tweets After 12 Mass Shootings

Preview: The Texas Republican Cruz has used some phrases multiple times in tweets about mass shootings, but not an identical template.

Uvalde Student: 'I Played Dead So He Wouldn't Shoot Me'

Preview: “There was blood on the ground,” said 10-year-old Samuel Salinas. “And there were kids [...] full of blood.”

Pebbles The Toy Fox Terrier Fetches 'Oldest Living Dog' Title In Tiny Canine Showdown

Preview: Pebbles, 22, has snatched the Guinness world record from the jaws of a 21-year-old Chihuahua named TobyKeith.

Opening Of ABBA's Digital Stage Show Brings Out Celebs And Royalty

Preview: A new show opening in London on Friday features a version of the band created using motion capture and other technology with a 10-piece live backing band.

Official Says Uvalde Police Waited Because Commanding Officer Believed 'Kids Weren’t At Risk'

Preview: Col. Steven McCraw said 19 officers waited outside a classroom door because a commanding officer "believed there was a barricaded subject and kids weren’t at risk."

Salem's Last 'Witch' Officially Pardoned Three Centuries Later

Preview: “For 300 years, Elizabeth Johnson Jr. was without a voice, her story lost to the passages of time."

Rhode Island Home That Inspired 'The Conjuring' Sells For More Than $1.5M

Preview: The buyer, Jacqueline Nuñez, said the “purchase is personal" for her. “It’s not a real-estate development. It’s around my own beliefs.”

Is A Recession Coming In The U.S.? Here's What Experts Say.

Preview: Inflation, rising interest rates, the ongoing Ukraine war and the continuing pandemic are raising concerns. Here's what the economic experts say.

Jacinda Ardern Says New Zealand Felt 'Responsibility' To Act On Guns After Christchurch

Preview: "We knew that we needed significant gun reform, and so that is what we did,” Ardern told students at Harvard University's commencement ceremony.

Manson Family Killer Patricia Krenwinkel Gets Parole Recommendation

Preview: The Charles Manson follower wrote "Helter Skelter" on a wall using blood of one of their murder victims.

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What happens when the 'good guys with guns' are afraid?

Preview: The school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, begs the question: What happens when the Republicans' so-called good guys with guns are afraid or incompetent?

Several performers, speakers pull out of NRA convention. And then there's these people.

Preview: The National Rifle Association is bumbling onward with its convention in Houston, despite this week's mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

The Texas shooting aftermath exposes the danger of these 4 American gun myths

Preview: Instead of relying on mythology, let's base our commonsense gun reform debate on data.

Why Madison Cawthorn's second loss this week is a win for the whole country

Preview: Cawthorn's illogical argument fails to persuade the appellate court.

With 9/11 comparison, Boebert accidentally makes a good point

Preview: While making the case against gun laws, Rep. Lauren Boebert said, "When 9/11 happened, we didn’t ban planes." That was accidentally a good point.

Trump was finally right about Michigan voter fraud. But very wrong about the culprits.

Preview: Say what you will about Trump — and believe me, I have — but he was right to be on the lookout for election fraud in Michigan.

Sure seems like Jim Jordan suddenly has something to hide from the Jan. 6 committee

Preview: The Ohio Republican insisted he had "nothing to hide" about Jan. 6. Then he was subpoenaed. Suddenly, Jim Jordan now seems to have something to hide.

This Georgia law is crossing dangerous territory for free speech and Black expression

Preview: This isn’t the first time we’ve witnessed promising rap careers being decimated by a RICO indictment.

On school shootings, Herschel Walker tries (and fails) again

Preview: Herschel Walker had 48 hours to come up with some thoughts on this week's school shooting. He apparently did not use that time wisely.

As senators begin new gun talks, will this time be any different?

Preview: Some senators think this time might be different. And Charlie Brown occasionally thought that Lucy would actually let him kick the football, too.

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Active Shooting Trainings Teach the U.S. Police to ‘Stop the Killing’

Preview: The response should center on neutralizing the gunman, a training program that is the national standard says, and then on getting medical aid to anyone who has been injured.

A Putin Opponent From Russia Leads Fighters Against His Home Country

Preview: “The hottest place to fight against the regime was in Ukraine,” says a unit commander who has been a volunteer soldier for his adopted country on and off since 2015.

Why the Once-Hawkish Heritage Foundation Opposed Aid to Ukraine

Preview: The conservative think tank has shifted on foreign policy along with the Republican grass-roots, and it is taking a more skeptical view of U.S. involvement in the world.

Russian Academics Aim to Punish Colleagues Who Backed Ukraine Invasion

Preview: A campaign is circulating a list of dozens of researchers in the hopes they will be denied the prestige of election into the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Trump’s Lawsuit Against Letitia James Is Dismissed

Preview: Mr. Trump had argued that an inquiry by the attorney general, Letitia James, violated his constitutional rights. It was his second legal loss in two days.

Grand Jury Begins Trump Inquiry in Georgia With Up to 50 Subpoenas

Preview: The district attorney in Fulton County, Ga., is weighing racketeering charges connected to G.O.P. attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

How an Organized Republican Effort Punishes Companies for Climate Action

Preview: Legislators and their allies are running an aggressive campaign that uses public money and the law to pressure businesses they say are pushing “woke” causes.

Gas Prices Hit New Highs as Summer Driving Season Starts

Preview: A gallon has jumped by about 50 cents over the last month as Russia’s war in Ukraine has continued to unsettle the global energy market.

Pakistan Raises Fuel Prices in Effort to Stabilize Economy

Preview: The interim government’s move was seen as a bid to revive a $6 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

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The Casual <em>Star Wars </em>Fan’s Guide to <em>Obi-Wan Kenobi</em>

Preview: Since when are there velociraptors in Star Wars? What was that spinny lightsaber? And was that Flea?

The Police Are Now Telling a Very Different Story About What Happened in Uvalde

Preview: Officials offered a clearer accounting of the Uvalde massacre—and how the police failed.

The Unavoidable Factor That Could Determine the War in Ukraine

Preview: What Kissinger and the New York Times editorial board have in common.

The Staggering Hypocrisy of Officials Who Are Blaming Mental Illness for Mass Shootings

Preview: If these leaders were truly worried about mental health, they could have, and would have done something about it long ago.

<em>Top Gun</em>’s Sweaty, Sexy Men Helped Me Survive My Adolescence

Preview: Iceman and Maverick jetted lifesaving homoeroticism past a generation of conservative parents.

Dear Care and Feeding: My Husband Got Me the Objectively Wrong Gift for Mother’s Day

Preview: Parenting advice on wrong gifts, intrinsic motivation, and talking about school shootings.

Could Monkeypox Bring a New Wave of Homophobia?

Preview: Some experts worry that linking monkeypox with gay and bisexual men risks repeating the mistakes of the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

What the Golden State Warriors Have to Fear

Preview: They’ve made the Finals yet again. But the old dynasty they’ve emulated is also a cautionary tale.

On Its Timely New Album, Wilco Reclaims “Alt-Country”

Preview: The scathing Cruel Country wrestles with a genre—and a nation—that Jeff Tweedy can’t help but love.

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The Uvalde police keep changing their story

Preview: A child crosses under caution tape at Robb Elementary School. | Brandon Bell/Getty Images Law enforcement noted they made the “wrong decision” when they didn’t confront the gunman sooner. Three days after an 18-year-old gunman fatally shot 19 students and two teachers and wounded 17 others in a fourth-grade classroom at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, big questions remain about how police responded to the murders, and FBI and other authorities are being called on to investigate. In the aftermath of the shooting, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott praised law enforcement for “showing amazing courage,” but bystanders at the scene — some of them parents of victims — soon came forward to say that the police did not do enough, quickly enough. The Uvalde local police, and state police, have also given conflicting accounts of their actions while the shooter was in the school building. The story got even murkier at a press conference on Friday, when Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw acknowledged that officers made “the wrong decision” in approaching the school. Police had thought they were dealing with someone who had barricaded himself in the school, not an active-shooter situation, McCraw said, and the on-scene commander, the chief of police of Uvalde schools, believed that “there were no kids at risk,” McCraw said. “Of course, from the benefit of hindsight. … It was the wrong decision. Period,” McCraw said — a decision that appears to have led at least two students to call 911 while others lay dying or played dead. There was a stark contrast between previous official statements, which described the police response as immediate, and Friday’s press conference in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary. But it was only the latest in a week of contradictions. Conflicting reports and erroneous information, even from officials, isn’t uncommon in the first hours after a shooting. But three days after the gunman entered Robb Elementary, the gaps in the narrative are proliferating, and many questions are still unanswered. What happened when police entered the building? What happened during the 90 minutes between the gunman entering the school and police killing him? Did officers’ hesitation in entering the school cost children’s lives? Why was a Border Patrol tactical team told to stand back before approaching the gunman? Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images Law enforcement officers on the grounds of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in response to a mass shooting that killed 19 children on May 24, 2022. The details that have so far emerged about what police did — and didn’t do — from 11:30 am to shortly after 1:30 pm paint a complicated and murky picture. At least some details suggest that police did not, in fact, try to stop the gunman as quickly as possible. Here’s what we know — based on new disclosures from law enforcement, press reports, and witness accounts about how the police responded — and here’s why bystanders say there’s more to the story. What we know about the timeline The most detailed timeline of events so far comes from claims in law enforcement press conferences on Thursday and Friday. At 11:28 am on Tuesday, the gunman crashed his grandmother’s pickup truck outside the school. (He had just shot his 66-year-old grandmother in the face. She survived and is in stable condition, according to Texas Department of Public Safety regional director Victor Escalon.) When he got out of the vehicle holding his rifle and a bag (which officers now know held ammunition), he shot at two people who ran out from Hillcrest Memorial Funeral Home across the street. The two people were uninjured. The gunman then jumped the fence outside the school and began shooting at the building from the parking lot. Police received the first 911 call at 11:30 am. The caller informed them of the crash and that the driver had a gun. Beginning at 11:33 am, the gunman fired more than 100 rounds. At 11:40 am, the shooter entered the west side of the school building. This is where the official narratives start to contradict one another. On Wednesday, the police said that he encountered an armed school resource officer; on Thursday, Escalon said the gunman walked in unimpeded through an unlocked door to the building. Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images The families of victims who were killed during the Uvalde mass shooting speak to the press during a vigil. At 11:35 am, police officers — including members of the Uvalde Police Department and the Independent School District Police Department, the school district’s designated police force — had entered the school. Half an hour later, there were a total of 19 officers in the school, McCraw said Friday. The gunman locked himself in the classroom and continued firing. The initial officers “received gunfire” and didn’t “make entry initially because of the gunfire they are receiving,” Escalon said, and would “take rounds,” then “move back, get cover.” At the same time, officers called for additional resources, including tactical teams, specialty equipment, body armor, precision riflemen, and negotiators, and officers were evacuating students and teachers. Agents from Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrived around noon, much earlier than previously known, McCraw said on Friday. But they did not breach the classroom and kill the gunman until 12:50 pm, about 80 minutes after the shooter entered the school. Uvalde police officers kept them from going in, McCraw said, even though they had heard gunfire. At 12:15 pm, a 911 call informed officials that about eight or nine students were still alive. Officials are still working to determine who among those children died or survived. At 12:36, about an hour after police first entered, a child called 911. She was told to stay quiet. At 12:47, she begged them to “please send the police now.” The Border Patrol tactical team did not enter the classrooms until after that moment, McCraw explained. What the police were doing inside the school during the nearly 90 minutes after the gunman entered, why they delayed so long even while children called 911, and what happened to the “eight to nine students” who were still alive at 12:15 pm is still unclear. The conflicting reports The Friday press conference flatly contradicted previous accounts from law enforcement, reports that had, in many cases, already conflicted with one another. On Wednesday, McCraw, the Texas Department of Public Safety director, said that an officer “engaged” the shooter. Yet officials reported on Thursday that there was no officer who confronted the gunman when he arrived. Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (center) speaks during a news conference in Uvalde, Texas. On Wednesday, McCraw said that Uvalde police officers arrived, immediately entered the school, “engaged the active shooter and continued to keep him pinned down in that location.” When a reporter asked how long officers engaged with the shooter, McCraw responded, “within 40 minutes or something, within an hour. I don’t want to give you a particular timeline,” then repeated that officers engaged “immediately.” Police backtracked Thursday and said there were no officers on the scene when the gunman arrived. And McCraw’s press conference on Friday described an entirely different sequence of events, in which officers didn’t immediately enter, nor did they engage the shooter. The immediate, aggressive response depicted in earlier police press conferences didn’t happen. Other reports from law enforcement raise more questions about what happened during those 90 minutes. Public Safety Department Lt. Chris Olivarez told the Today show on Wednesday that when officers arrived at the school they could hear gunshots ringing out from inside the building and he told CBS Mornings on Wednesday that they “could see the shooter.” The gunman had “barricaded himself inside” the classroom, he told Today, and was “​​shooting numerous children and teachers that were in that classroom, having no regard for human life.” Eric Thayer/Getty Images Victor Escalon, regional director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, speaks during a press conference on May 26, 2022. According to Olivarez, police did try to enter the school but the gunman shot at them, and “there was no way they were able to make entry,” which prompted officers to begin breaking windows to help students escape, and to keep their “primary focus” on evacuating children. Olivarez told CNN Thursday evening that officers who first responded waited for a tactical team to arrive because they could have been shot if they attempted to confront the gunman alone: “The active shooter situation, you want to stop the killing, you want to preserve life, but also one thing that — of course, the American people need to understand — that officers are making entry into this building. They do not know where the gunman is. They are hearing gunshots. They are receiving gunshots.” He continued: “At that point, if they proceeded any further not knowing where the suspect was at, they could’ve been shot, they could’ve been killed, and that gunman would have had an opportunity to kill other people inside that school.” One report noted that a student is thought to have bled to death in the hour it took officers to enter the classroom, leaving parents wondering whether she would still be alive had she been rushed to the hospital sooner. Bystanders paint a fuller picture of what happened in those 90 minutes The conflicting police accounts may partly be the result of how challenging it is to piece together a complicated and traumatic event, as Escalon claimed. “There’s a lot of information, a lot of moving parts. We have a lot of people involved in this investigation. ... Our job is to report the facts and have those answers. We’re not there yet,” he said on Thursday. But critics, including bystanders, claim the police accounts are conflicting because officers did not do their jobs. Eric Thayer/Getty Images A view of a family grieving at a memorial in the Uvalde town square for victims of the Robb Elementary School mass shooting. Bystanders at the scene said officers were just standing there. Angeli Rose Gomez told the Wall Street Journal that she drove to the school after hearing about the attack and witnessed police “just standing outside the fence. They weren’t going in there or running anywhere.” After pleading with officers to go inside, she said that federal marshals arrested her for interfering in an investigation. One man, Juan Carranza, who lives across the street from the school, told the Associated Press that a woman yelled at officers standing outside the school repeatedly to “Go in there,” but the officers did not. Another, Javier Cazares, told the news service that “more could have been done”: his daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the shooting, and when Javier Cazares arrived at the school, he tried to devise a plan to rush into the building since officers were still gathered outside. Other parents were pinned to the ground, pepper sprayed, or tasered, said Gomez, who said she managed to run into the school and save her child after convincing the officers to uncuff her. When asked about these reports on Thursday, Escalon said, “I have heard that information, but we have not verified that yet.” Videos posted to YouTube of the scene outside the school show officers holding parents back and pinning one to the ground, as others screamed to be let inside the school and urged officers to “Get your ass inside that building!” One officer tried to assure parents that they were taking care of it, that officers were actively removing children from the building, to which one woman replied, “Bullshit, he ain’t dead yet,” implying that the shooter was still firing. The Washington Post reported that shots were still audible at 12:52 pm, according to radio recordings. At 1:06 pm, Uvalde police announced online that the shooting was over. One fourth grader who survived the shooting after hiding underneath a table explained what happened when the police arrived in the classroom. “When the cops came, the cop said: ‘Yell if you need help!’ And one of the persons in my class said ‘help.’ The guy overheard and he came in and shot her,” the boy said. “The cop barged into that classroom. The guy shot at the cop. And the cops started shooting.” The police got a student killed, according to the survivor’s story. These details raise questions about the role of police officers in shootings, and they are reigniting debate about whether law enforcement and related safety measures keep schools and communities safe. During the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in 2018, the only armed officer outside of the school stood outside and did nothing as a gunman murdered 17 students and injured 17 others. He was charged with counts of child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury; he could face the death penalty if convicted. The Uvalde School District, which serves a town of about 16,000, had a detailed safety plan, featuring 21 “preventative security measures” that it has taken to bolster school safety, including employing four officers, staff who patrol door entrances, and employing trained professionals who assess threats, and monitor social media for threats. The plan also included installing perimeter fencing and security cameras and supplying schools with portable metal detectors and radios for campus communication. Teachers were required to keep their classroom doors locked at all times. The district’s bullying and threat reporting system was supposed to catch concerning behavior early on. The school spent $450,000 on security and monitoring services in the 2019-20 fiscal year, up from $200,000 the year before, CNN reported. The Uvalde Police Department has previously touted its SWAT team on social media, but it is unclear whether that team responded to the shooting. Despite these conflicting stories and a timeline that’s littered with gaps nearly two days after the massacre, officials continued to congratulate themselves on their response until the abrupt reversal at Friday’s press conference. “If those officers weren’t there, if they did not maintain their presence, there is a good chance that gunman could have made it to other classrooms and commit more killings,” Olivarez said Thursday evening. Allison Dinner/AFP via Getty Images Crosses representing each victim killed during a mass shooting sit outside Robb Elementary School on May 26, 2022.

Here’s where dangerous ticks are spreading across the US — and what to do about them

Preview: An adult black-legged tick in Oakdale, New York. | Bill Davis/Newsday RM via Getty Images There are two main ticks to watch out for, and both are on the move. I’ll get right to the point: Dangerous ticks are spreading across the country. Whether this summer will be especially “ticky” depends on where you live, experts say, but the range of several species that carry pathogens is expanding across North America. We’re now finding these creatures in places we never have before. In the past two decades, for example, the number of US counties with an established population of black-legged ticks — those that can transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease — has more than doubled. Lone star ticks, meanwhile, are spreading north. Bites from these rust-colored arachnids are implicated in potentially fatal allergic reactions to red meat, among other conditions. Ticks are spreading in different places for different reasons. In the eastern US, an increase in forest cover has helped facilitate the spread of white-tailed deer and other animals that ticks feed on. It’s a rare, counterintuitive example of how reforestation can carry unwanted consequences — or “ecosystem disservices,” as some researchers have put it. !function(){"use strict";window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if(void 0!["datawrapper-height"])for(var e in["datawrapper-height"]){var t=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-"+e)||document.querySelector("iframe[src*='"+e+"']");t&&(["datawrapper-height"][e]+"px")}});window.addEventListener('DOMContentLoaded',function(){var i=document.createElement("iframe");var e=document.getElementById("datawrapper-KZ9AU");var t=e.dataset.iframeTitle||'Interactive graphic';i.setAttribute("src",e.dataset.iframe);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("frameborder","0");i.setAttribute("scrolling","no");i.setAttribute("aria-label",e.dataset.iframeFallbackAlt||t);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("height","400");i.setAttribute("id","datawrapper-chart-KZ9AU");"100%";"none";e.appendChild(i)})}() More ticks means more tick-borne diseases, which have more than doubled since 2004. This isn’t just a problem for backcountry hikers. Your risk of encountering a tick may actually be higher while gardening or walking your pets — which are at risk, too — relative to outdoor recreation, according to one large 2019 survey in the Northeast. But don’t panic. You can still enjoy a summer outdoors if you dress appropriately, do frequent tick checks, and educate yourself about the areas where ticks pose the most danger. Getty Images/iStockphoto An American dog tick. The rise of dangerous ticks There are hundreds of species of ticks worldwide and dozens in the US, but only some are known to transmit pathogens to humans. Typically, ticks aren’t considered reservoirs for those pathogens. Instead, they pick them up when feeding on infected hosts, such as white-footed mice. Two kinds of ticks are especially worrisome in the US — the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) and the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum). Both carry harmful pathogens and appear to be creeping across the country. Black-legged, or deer, ticks get the most attention from epidemiologists and ecologists because they carry two kinds of bacteria that cause Lyme disease. Lyme is the most common vector-borne disease in the US and the cause of a number of unpleasant symptoms from fever to joint pain, some of which can last for months. These ticks are broadening their range from the eastern US in pretty much all directions, bringing Lyme as far west as Nebraska, perhaps, according to Dan Salkeld, a disease ecologist at Colorado State University. The CDC estimates that nearly half a million people now get Lyme disease in the US each year, and there’s been a steady rise in reported cases in the past three decades. (Tick surveillance gets better over time, which could explain some of the expansion.) The expansion has epidemiologists worried. Tick-borne diseases already account for more than 75 percent of reported vector-borne diseases in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Making matters worse, the resources for tick surveillance and prevention are highly limited, compared with what we spend on, say, mosquito control. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention The spread of black-legged ticks. Note: The first two images jump from 1996 to 2016. The red tiles in the above animation represent counties where researchers have documented the sprawl of black-legged tick populations in recent times, whereas the yellow shading shows areas where they could be found. Another species that carries Lyme disease, the western black-legged tick, which occupies much of the West Coast, is not shown here, but its population appears relatively stable. Meanwhile, the lone star tick, which is widely distributed across the eastern US, appears to be spreading north, and they could be moving west, too, experts say. “They’re jumping states,” Salkeld said, mentioning that they’ve now been found in Colorado, “where they’re not supposed to be.” There’s evidence to suggest that a bite from the lone star tick can in some people trigger alpha-gal syndrome, a potentially fatal allergic reaction from consuming red meat. (Both black-legged and lone star ticks can transmit several other dangerous pathogens as well.) CDC The range of the lone star tick. Still other types of tick, like the Gulf Coast tick that’s found in the Southeast and part of Arizona, likewise appear to be moving north, as does the American dog tick, according to a study from 2018. Both of those species can transmit human pathogens. According to Rebecca Lee Smith, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Illinois, researchers have found populations of Gulf Coast ticks in Illinois — “farther north than anybody expected them.” Though it presents less of a threat to humans, the longhorned tick, an invasive species first reported in 2017, is also spreading across the eastern US. The tick can effectively clone itself to reproduce and has been known to kill cattle by “exsanguination” — a grisly, slow-moving process in which hordes of ticks latch onto animals and suck so much of their blood that they die. Fortunately, it doesn’t appear that longhorned ticks can transmit Lyme disease to humans. More deer often means more ticks If you ask scientists why ticks are expanding, you tend to hear a lot of, “It depends.” Different species — and even the same species in different regions — appear to be spreading for different reasons. In the Northeast, for example, black-legged ticks are likely spreading in part because of the increase in forest cover, said Rebecca Eisen, a research biologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the 18th and 19th centuries, settlers felled large swaths of forest to fuel their westward expansion and grow food, which, along with hunting, drove out white-tailed deer. In the late 19th century, forests started growing back, and the deer returned in huge numbers. Now, the black-legged tick is likely just “expanding in its previous range,” Eisen said. John McDonnell/The Washington Post/Getty Images A group of deer in Virginia. Deer are a preferred host for many species of ticks. That reveals a broader trend: Areas with lots of deer tend to be areas with lots of ticks, as deer are the prey of choice for many species. “Ticks that have made the biggest moves over the last few decades are those that rely heavily on deer as a reproductive host,” said Thomas Mather, a professor and disease ecologist at the University of Rhode Island. That includes the lone star tick, which typically relies on blood from deer in all stages of its life, from larva to adult. And these arachnids can really go to town. One older study from Arkansas documented as many as 2,550 ticks on the ear of one deer. “The deer is a large-bodied, highly abundant species that occurs in many different habitats, so for a parasite, it’s a great host,” said Jean Tsao, an associate professor and tick expert at Michigan State University. Some research also suggests that forest fragmentation and the loss of biodiversity can benefit ticks — again, by increasing the number of host animals. Typically, when you start disturbing a natural habitat, “generalist” species like deer and mice tend to thrive. They can survive on a range of foods and have fewer predators, Tsao said. These animals are often the very ones that ticks like to feed on, Smith said. Fragmentation also increases the amount of forest edge, where humans and wildlife are more likely to come into contact. (However, high fragmentation can also limit the ability of ticks or their hosts to spread from one patch of habitat to the next.) W. Tanner Porter et al./International Journal of Health Geographics For a 2019 study, researchers analyzed 4,261 tick encounters submitted by citizen scientists in the Northeast. The chart shows what the citizens were doing when they encountered the ticks. (The x axis is the number of encounters.) Is climate change also to blame? Yes and no. Ticks may seem indestructible, but they’re actually sensitive to changes in moisture and temperature, and long, harsh winters can keep them at bay. That’s why researchers suspect that climate change could help some species spread — including the lone star. “Further northward and westward expansion of these ticks can be expected as a result of ongoing climate change,” wrote authors of a 2019 study on lone star ticks, which modeled habitat suitability under various climate scenarios. White-footed mice, which are reservoirs for some pathogens, also appear to be moving north, other research shows. Ram K. Raghavan et al./PLOS ONE The expansion of lone star ticks under a moderate emissions scenario. Red areas represent new areas of suitable tick habitat, whereas green areas show regions that could become unsuitable. (Darker shades indicate that more of the climate models they tested agreed.) For other ticks, climate change is more of a mixed bag. Some studies, for example, link high temperatures to a lower risk of Lyme disease in parts of the country; ticks can die when they dry out. Other research, however, suggests climate change may facilitate the northern spread of black-legged ticks and Lyme disease. Shorter winters may also mean ticks are active for a longer period, giving them more opportunities to bite humans. For now, much of this remains “guesswork,” Eisen said. “You could see some range contraction, but most of the models are suggesting expansion more than contraction.” How to prevent a tick bite Ticks would be a lot less threatening if we had an effective way to manage them. “Right now, there are very few tools to control ticks,” Tsao said. Each method we do have — from poisons known as “arachnicides” to deer eradication — comes with its own drawbacks, researchers say. And funding for tick control isn’t always a priority. “Why is there such a disparity in the tools that we have to prevent tick-borne diseases relative to mosquito-borne diseases?” Eisen said. Bill Greene/The Boston Globe/Getty Images A black-legged tick on someone’s clothing in Massachusetts. The good thing, Eisen says, is that tick-borne disease is preventable — you just have to take action yourself. Here’s what the CDC recommends: Use an insect repellent registered by the EPA Wear long pants, and treat your clothes with the insecticide permethrin. Bonus points if you tuck them into your socks. When you get home, throw your clothes in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes. Do a tick check with help from a friend or loved one, and take a shower. Don’t forget to check pets, too! Dogs are highly susceptible to tick-borne diseases including Lyme disease. You should also be sure to use reliable tick-prevention medications. (Though rest assured that dogs can’t transmit Lyme disease to another pet or to you directly.) If you do find a tick that’s dug into your skin, check out this CDC guide. Basically, you’ll want to pull it out with tweezers (don’t twist!) and clean the area with alcohol or soap and water. You can also snap a photo of it and upload the tick pic to TickSpotters, a tool that Mather developed. TickSpotters will then confirm the tick species and your risk of being infected, usually within 24 hours.

Mass shootings typically lead to looser gun laws, not stronger ones

Preview: Dick Heller, a Second Amendment activist, speaks at the March For Our Rights rally outside the Capitol on July 7, 2018, in Washington, DC. Rallies were held across the country as a reaction to the student-led gun control movement started after the Parkland school shooting. | Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images Scholars of gun politics have found a striking — and disturbing — pattern. Immediately after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, the state’s Republican attorney general, Ken Paxton, argued that the best way to prevent such a horror from happening again would have been to arm the school’s staff. “We can’t stop bad people from doing bad things. We can potentially arm and prepare and train teachers and other administrators to respond quickly,” he said on Fox News. The fact that Robb had an armed school security officer did not seem to deter Paxton (police have given contradictory answers on whether this officer exchanged fire with the shooter). Nor did the fact that what he’s describing is already permitted under Texas law: a 2013 bill, passed as a direct response to the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, permitted trained staff members at Texas schools to secretly carry weapons. The state expanded this policy in 2018 in response to a mass shooting at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas. Recent research finds that this seemingly perverse response — the use of a mass shooting as a justification for loosening gun laws and calling for more guns — is actually the norm in the United States. One study, published in the Journal of Public Economics in 2020, examined state legislatures’ policy responses in the wake of mass shootings — and found that they were heavily tilted toward lax regulation. “In states with Republican-controlled legislatures, a mass shooting roughly doubles the number of laws enacted that loosen gun restrictions in the year following the incident,” the authors write. “We find no significant effect of mass shootings on laws enacted when there is a Democrat-controlled legislature. We also find no significant effect of mass shootings on the number of enacted laws that tighten gun restrictions.” Research by Kristin Goss, a political scientist at Duke University, helps explain why this happens. In two recent publications, Goss compares the political activities of pro-gun rights citizens and activists to those who favor gun regulations. She finds strong evidence that pro-gun rights citizens are consistently more engaged in the political process, both after mass shootings and otherwise (though the gap has been narrowing). “Different levels of mobilization reflect the different capacity of groups on each side to do the mobilizing,’” Goss writes. “By these measures, the gun rights side has a strong advantage.” Put together, the political science on gun policy after mass shootings paints a grim picture of America’s future after Uvalde. Though polling shows strong public support for enhanced gun control policies like background checks, the most likely outcome is not any kind of breakthrough on these issues. Instead, the strongly held beliefs and superior organization of pro-gun citizens — together with a political system structurally biased in the GOP’s favor — make the opposite more likely: a future where the intense efforts of a radically pro-gun minority continue to expand the availability of firearms and their presence in everyday American life. Recent mass shootings have made America’s gun laws looser, not stricter In the Journal of Public Economics paper, Harvard’s Michael Luca and Deepak Malhotra, with UCLA’s Christopher Poliquin, examine every piece of gun legislation passed between 1989 and 2014, comparing what happens in the year following mass shootings to more “normal” legislative sessions. Their first finding is that mass shootings do indeed galvanize legislative efforts to change gun laws — and that the worse the mass shooting is, the more likely it is spur legislation. “[A] mass shooting leads to a 15% increase in firearm bills introduced. For the average state, this amounts to an additional 2.4 firearm bills introduced in the year following a mass shooting,” they write. “On average, each additional death in a mass shooting leads to a 2.3% increase in the number of gun bills introduced.” Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images Texas Rep. Chip Roy speaks alongside members of the Second Amendment Caucus at a press conference outside the US Capitol on March 8 to talk about their support for the “No REGISTRY Rights Act,” which if passed would make it illegal to track gun ownership. When you split up these numbers by party, the results are striking. Republican legislators introduce roughly 50 percent more bills in years when there’s a mass shooting within that state than in other years. Democratic legislators seem to introduce 11 percent more bills, but the authors note that finding was not significantly significant. The difference is even more striking when you look at bills that actually become law. “[A] mass shooting in the previous year increases the number of enacted laws that loosen gun restrictions by about 120% in states with Republican-controlled legislatures,” they write. “When there is a Democrat-controlled legislature, mass shootings lead to a statistically insignificant reduction in laws that loosen gun control.” The authors suggest that the overall increase in legislative activity is the result of increased media coverage of guns after mass shootings. However, this by itself cannot explain the partisan asymmetry in legislative activity — which they propose, but do not attempt to prove, is the result of gun rights advocates being more involved in the political process. “Supporters of gun rights are more likely to advocate for their positions by writing letters or donating money) and are better-organized than citizens favoring gun control,” the authors theorize. But is this what actually happens in the wake of tragedy? Pro-gun rights citizens really are more engaged than their opponents Goss, the Duke political scientist, examines this phenomenon in a pair of recent papers. In a 2017 article, she studies a series of topics related to gender and political views on guns. Generally speaking, she finds that both partisanship and gender matter: Democrats are consistently more pro-gun regulation than Republicans, but women in both parties are more likely to support gun control than their male co-partisans. To see how these divides play out in practice, Goss examines political activism in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, looking specifically at three surveys conducted in a six-month period surrounding the attack. The survey assessed whether respondents had ”contacted a public official to express their opinion about gun policy; contributed money to an organization that takes a position on gun policy; expressed their opinion on gun policy using Facebook, Twitter, or another social network; or signed a petition about gun policy.” What she found was striking: Pro-gun rights men were by far the most likely to engage in political activism in the months following Sandy Hook. Jessica Hill/AP Gun rights supporters rally at the Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford in 2013. The rally, dubbed “Guns Across America,” was held at state capitol buildings across the country to raise concerns about possible new gun legislation that could affect gun owners’ rights in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. These men were more engaged on every measure except expressing an opinion on social media, where pro-gun rights women were (slightly) more active. Gun control supporters consistently lagged behind, sometimes by huge margins: pro-gun rights men were, for example, nearly five times as likely to donate to a gun rights group than gun control advocates of either sex were to donate to a gun-control group. The only exception was one element of the post-shooting debate on background checks, in which pro-regulation women reached out to legislators more than pro-gun rights men. The overall discrepancy is not necessarily because gun rights activists care more about the issue than their anti-gun peers, according to Goss. Rather, the key difference is that the pro-gun organizational capacity is stronger: advocacy groups like the NRA are considerably better at getting their supporters mobilized than their anti-gun opponents. “[Pro-regulation] women remain generally undermobilized relative to pro-gun men when it comes to other forms of engagement around gun policy,” Goss writes. “Even though pro-gun men are fewer in number than pro-regulation women, the men generally produce more political activity.” In a 2019 paper, Goss examines whether anything in the years since Sandy Hook has changed this general pattern. She finds that the shooting did profoundly alter the pro-regulation activist landscape, leading to an influx of money from pro-regulation billionaire Mike Bloomberg and the formation of new advocacy groups like Everytown for Gun Safety. These changes created a more active and disciplined gun control movement, one more effectively engaged in the political process and better equipped to score legislative wins. But still, she writes, “these groups are David to the gun lobby’s Goliath” — a political behemoth whose revenues were (per 2017 data) “five times those of national gun violence prevention groups.” The result was a series of victories, even after Sandy Hook and the next 10 years of mass shootings, that outstripped the new pro-regulation movement’s more modest wins. “In the early 1990s, the majority of states either barred people from carrying concealed firearms in public or strictly regulated the licenses to do so,” she writes. “By 2018, the situation was reversed. All states allowed concealed carry, and fewer than one in five states strictly regulated licensing.” It’s possible this trend may change. In the past few years, the NRA has faced massive legal problems while gun control advocates have continued to organize. But in an intensely polarized society where legislation faces many political veto points — like the Senate filibuster and an extremely pro-gun Supreme Court majority — it’s hard to make significant changes at the federal level or in Republican-controlled states. Gun control advocates aren’t just at an organizational disadvantage; they’re at a structural one. They’d have to outcompete the NRA and its allies not just a little, but dramatically, to really transform the way America responds to mass shootings. As a result, the most likely outcome, at least in the short and medium term, is that after Uvalde, things will continue the way they’ve gone. Republican-controlled state legislatures will expand gun rights or at the very least preserve the status quo, entrenching the hegemony of the gun over American civic life. Political realities can and do change, of course. But the challenge for the gun reform side remains daunting.

The Supreme Court just okayed Biden’s “social cost of carbon.” It’s still way too low.

Preview: Amanda Northrop/Vox We’re radically underestimating the true cost of our carbon footprint. The Supreme Court decided on May 26 to allow President Joe Biden’s administration to continue using a key metric in the fight against climate change. The court’s order, in refusing to put back an order from a federal judge in Louisiana that had blocked the administration, is just one line long. But it represents a big setback for the Republican-led states that have been suing the president over the metric, known as the social cost of carbon: a measure, in dollars, of how much damage results from emitting 1 ton of carbon dioxide. Being able to discuss the damage in terms of a precise dollar amount is important because it allows policymakers to show when the benefits of preventing global warming are greater than the costs. At some point it just becomes cheaper to switch to sustainable systems instead of coping with all the wildfires, floods, droughts, and heat waves that result from unsustainable systems. In 2021, Biden signed an executive order that tasked a working group with determining the social cost of carbon (SCC). The working group decided to go with an interim figure of $51 per ton — the same SCC the Obama administration used — until it could study the matter in depth and release a final determination that’s updated to the latest science. But under the Trump administration, the SCC was as low as $1, in part because of a decision to factor in only domestic, not global, impacts of emissions. Compared to $1, the $51 price tag the Biden administration reverted to is high — and the Republican states suing Biden, led by Louisiana, are not happy with it. Knowing that the SCC is used in regulating carbon-emitting projects, like oil and gas drilling, the red states had argued that the price tag is a “power grab” designed to “manipulate America’s entire federal regulatory apparatus through speculative costs and benefits.” But according to some top environmental economists, we have good reason to believe the true cost of emitting carbon is actually a lot higher than even a $51 price tag suggests. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, until recently, the economists who calculated the SCC had barely factored in one of the biggest harms that climate change can cause: human mortality. Second, the way the SCC had been calculated rested on a problematic premise: that damage in the future counts for significantly less than damage in the present. Let’s look at each of these issues in turn to understand why some experts now say the true cost of carbon per ton should really be much, much higher than we’d thought. In addition to having major policy implications, this discussion has major moral implications: It goes to the heart of our ethical responsibility to care for future generations. The cost of our carbon footprint — in human lives Record-shattering temperatures, which have led to recent heat waves like the one in India and Pakistan, make it painfully obvious that climate change isn’t a far-off threat — it’s already killing people. So you might think that the SCC would also include a decent estimate as to the number of climate-related deaths per ton. But due to a lack of reliable data, it didn’t. There was no centralized data source enabling scientists to access daily temperature-related mortality figures for each country, so deaths barely factored into the calculation. In 2021, the economist Danny Bressler published a study in the journal Nature Communications that attempts to rectify that shortcoming. His paper updates the SCC based on findings that have emerged in the last few years about heat-related deaths. When Bressler factored in the projected deaths — what he calls “the mortality cost of carbon” — the SCC jumped to a whopping $258 per ton. To break that down a bit: Bressler found that adding 4,434 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere would result in one heat-related death this century. That’s equivalent to the lifetime emissions of 3.5 Americans. People in other nations emit much less. For example, it would take the combined lifetime emissions of 146.2 Nigerians to kill one person. This highlights one of the injustices of climate change. On a per-capita basis, people in richer, cooler countries produce far more emissions than people in poorer, hotter countries who suffer most of the damage. It’s important to emphasize that Bressler’s estimate is only taking into account temperature-related mortality. (That means the net effect of having more hot days and fewer cold days.) But we know there are a lot of other climate-related events that can lead to death, including flooding, crop failures, disease transmission, and wars. Bressler told me he couldn’t factor them in due to a lack of rigorous data. “But if you add in those other pathways,” Bressler said, “yeah, that would probably make the number go up.” At this point, you might be wondering where, exactly, these sorts of numbers come from. In the early ’90s, American economist William Nordhaus first figured out how to attach a price tag to the damage caused by 1 ton of carbon dioxide, a contribution deemed so valuable that he won a Nobel Prize for it. His model was dubbed the “Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy,” or DICE (to emphasize that we’re playing dice with the planet’s future). Bressler used Nordhaus’s original DICE model to calculate the SCC. He left all the parameters the same but added in the mortality costs of carbon, which the original model didn’t properly incorporate. That’s what made the SCC jump to $258. Some experts say that number might be too high. But even if it’s somewhere in the right ballpark, that means it’s extremely worthwhile — not only morally but also in purely economic terms — to reduce emissions fast. More specifically, the main policy implication of the revamped model is that we should commit to full decarbonization by 2050. Note that while your choices as an individual factor into this, we can make a much greater impact by focusing on what governments and businesses do. “If you want to make as large-scale change as possible, do things at the level of policy or the level of business,” Bressler said. If we fully decarbonize by 2050 rather than letting emissions grow in line with Nordhaus’s baseline scenario (which sees our emissions plateau close to the end of the century), we could bring down the expected number of heat-related deaths this century from 83 million to 9 million, according to Bressler. In other words, we could save 74 million lives. That’s roughly the number of people who died in World War II, the deadliest conflict in history. The rate at which we’re “discounting” the future is too high Unless you’ve studied economics, you may have never heard about discount rates. But it’s a key idea to wrap your head around, so let’s go ahead and unpack it. The basic idea behind discount rates is that future damages or benefits are worth less than those in the present. That might sound unintuitive, but we all use discounting, whether we realize it or not. For example, think about the value of getting $100 today versus the value of getting $100 next year. It’s common sense that if I give you $100 today, that’s better for you because you can invest it and potentially earn a nice return by next year. If instead I gave you $100 next year, the relative value of that gift would be “discounted.” But by how much? That depends on market realities like interest rates. Let’s say the market dictates that there’s a discount rate of 3 percent per year. That means what I give you a year from now is worth only 97 percent of what I give you this year. And the picture gets worse and worse with each passing year, since any earnings would have compounded over time if you’d been able to invest earlier. When environmental economists talk about discounting, they’re typically operating with the underlying assumption that society is likely to be richer in the future, as that’s the pattern we’ve seen over the past couple of centuries. So a benefit worth $100 is going to be worth less to us in the future than today. Likewise, $100 worth of damage from climate change will matter less to us. But how much less? Economists disagree vehemently on the answer. Nordhaus, the Nobel winner who created the DICE model, was a proponent of using a 3 percent discount rate. British economist Nicholas Stern argued in his famed 2006 Stern Review for using a lower discount rate of 1.4 percent, which would lead to a higher SCC. To understand their disagreement, consider that there are two main reasons to discount the future. The first is the reason we just covered: An extra dollar is worth less to a wealthy person than to a poorer person, and the assumption is that future people will be wealthier. Nordhaus and Stern wouldn’t disagree about that. But the second reason for discounting is more contentious. It has to do with the fact that people tend to value the future less than the present. In wonky terms, this is called the “rate of pure time preference.” As Bressler explained, “Nordhaus would say people are naturally myopic — they naturally discount the future relative to today — and it’s not up to us as economists to tell people what to think. Whereas Stern would say, ‘Well, we need to consider all the generations in our economic analysis, not just the present one, and we shouldn’t discount the future just because it’s in the future.’” This argument gets at a core problem of climate advocacy: It’s hard enough to get people to invest in their own future, and persuading them to highly value future generations who can’t advocate for themselves is even harder. But because Stern thought it wrong to implicitly discriminate against the future generations who will bear the brunt of our emissions, he put less value on the rate of pure time preference, and as a result came up with a lower discount rate. Interestingly, what Bressler’s study shows is that even when we assume Nordhaus’s higher discount rate and just add in the mortality impacts, we still get a big increase in the social cost of carbon. And what happens to the SCC if we try using Stern’s lower discount rate? “Oh, it goes way up,” Bressler told me. “Way, way up. It goes into the thousands of dollars.” Laurie Johnson, former chief economist of the Natural Resources Defense Council and now executive director at the Climate Cost Project, didn’t bat an eye at the idea of a social cost of carbon in the thousands. She told me that’s a reasonable number per ton. “People are suffering and dying, and more people will be suffering and dying,” she said, emphasizing that Bressler’s mortality estimates account for only a small fraction of the deaths we’ll see. Other experts likewise believe the US has been using an overly high discount rate and thus underestimating the SCC. Economists Tamma Carleton and Michael Greenstone, for example, argued in a paper that the discount rate should be no higher than 2 percent. When they plugged in that rate, it resulted in a SCC of $125. Carleton said the need for a lower discount rate is justifiable on purely economic grounds. “As you might have noticed if you’ve tried to buy a house recently (among lots of other things), interest rates look very different. Capital markets have changed, and interest rates are lower,” she told me. But there are also very strong ethical reasons to think the discount rate used to date is much too high. The discount rate is not objective — it’s a subjective moral judgment People do tend to value the present more than the future. You may grab that chocolate chip cookie today, for instance, even though you know it means you’ll have to lean into the diet extra hard tomorrow. But that doesn’t necessarily mean our climate models should follow suit. In fact, some philosophers think baking in people’s rate of pure time preference is a terrible idea. “We’re basically just measuring a form of human impatience and irrationality, then trying to add it into political decision-making,” Toby Ord, a senior research fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, argued on the 80,000 Hours podcast in 2017. “It doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing that one should be respecting at all. It’s just like finding a cognitive bias that we have, and then adding it back into your economic analysis in order to make your analysis biased in the same way.” One classic reason individuals undervalue future events is because there’s a chance they’ll no longer be alive when those events happen, so they won’t be affected. That might make sense when it comes to individual choices, like eating a bunch of chocolate chip cookies. But in the case of climate change, respecting that bias means accepting that future generations will face centuries of climate disaster because of the choices we’ve made (and continue to make). There’s an implicit intergenerational trade-off here. And although there’s no philosophical consensus about the right way to handle such trade-offs, many philosophers think we have a moral responsibility to care for future generations. Frank Partnoy, now a Berkeley Law professor, argued this point in a 2012 interview with the New York Times. “A human life is often estimated to be worth around $10 million,” he said. “But if you apply a 3 percent discount rate to this, that means that a human life 500 years from now is only worth $3.81 today.” Most people would agree that seems ridiculous. Philosopher Derek Parfit and economist Tyler Cowen underscored the absurdity of a social discount rate in a 1992 paper, writing: “Why should costs and benefits receive less weight, simply because they are further in the future? When the future comes, these benefits and costs will be no less real. Imagine finding out that you, having just reached your twenty-first birthday, must soon die of cancer because one evening Cleopatra wanted an extra helping of dessert. How could this be justified?” Now, that’s not to say the pure rate of time preference should be absolutely zero. As Carleton and Greenstone wrote, “Perhaps the most compelling explanation for a nonzero pure rate of time preference is the possibility of a disaster (e.g., asteroids or nuclear war) that wipes out the population at some point in the future, thus removing the value of any events that happen afterwards.” Ord has made the same argument, suggesting we should discount the future by the extinction risk to humanity, and no more. Whatever you think about discounting, intellectual honesty requires us to admit that how we choose to answer the question of what we owe to future generations gets baked into the discount rate and thus into the SCC. And any answer to that question will be a subjective moral judgment, not some objective mathematical truth. “Ultimately, we can’t rely on only numbers — we have to make really hard value judgments,” Partnoy told the New York Times. “We should stop pretending this is a science and admit it is an art and talk about this in terms of ethics and fairness, not what we can observe in the markets.” The Climate Cost Project’s Johnson agrees. “Some economists like to do a lot of smoke and mirrors and pretend that everything is objective and not based on values,” she said. “But it is based on values.” She pointed out that even the first purely economic reason to discount the future (society will be wealthier in the future, and damages matter less the wealthier you are) is not some objective truth. She doesn’t take it for granted that economic growth will continue, since climate change could hamper or even reverse it. But many economists, she said, have an “irrational love affair” with the idea of ongoing economic growth. “There’s a blind spot there among some economists — they really think growth can just continue like this,” Johnson said. “But it’s a delusion.” Because Johnson thinks the first and second reasons to discount the future are deeply flawed, she does not think it makes sense to continue talking in terms of a social cost of carbon. Instead, she said we should simply set an emissions target and then determine the most cost-effective ways of reaching it. She’s not alone. Even Stern, one of the main economists to shape the idea of the SCC, advocated for the same shift in a 2021 report he co-authored with Nobel laureate and Columbia professor Joseph Stiglitz. Realistically, though, the Biden administration will likely set a new social cost of carbon, as it’s promised to do. The experts I spoke with expect the new SCC to factor in the latest empirical data. That includes what we now know about the mortality cost of carbon as well as data on what the market is doing; as Carleton noted, interest rates have dropped, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see that reflected in a lower discount rate — and thus a higher SCC. The Biden administration may well follow the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s general guidance on how to determine the SCC. One important aspect of those recommendations is that they “put uncertainty center stage,” Carleton said, meaning they “price in the uncertainty we face about future economic growth — and hence future discount rates.” This careful treatment of uncertainty would go some way toward accounting for Johnson’s objection that economic growth may not continue in the era of climate change. However, “I think the discussion still needs to be honest about what the real ethics are,” Johnson said. “You can’t reduce this problem to a mathematical equation.” Update, May 27, 2022: This story has been updated to reflect the news that the Supreme Court declined to uphold the Republican-led states’ effort to block the Biden administration’s social cost of carbon policy.

The two paths Congress could take on gun control

Preview: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) addresses a rally with fellow Democrats and gun control advocacy groups outside the Capitol on May 26, in Washington, DC.  | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images Lawmakers are weighing red flag laws and background checks in the search for a compromise. In the wake of the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting, Congress is once again at a crossroads on gun control, an issue lawmakers have failed to act on for more than a decade. “I’m hopeful there is growing momentum. But I have failed plenty of times before,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), a leading gun control advocate, told reporters on Thursday. The plan is to work hard at a compromise for the next 10 days. Hopefully we succeed and the Senate can vote on a bipartisan bill that saves lives. But if we can’t find common ground, then we are going to take a vote on gun violence. The Senate will not ignore this crisis. — Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) May 25, 2022 For now, Murphy is heading a 10-day effort to see if he can find bipartisan compromise on the issue. He says he’s open to anything that could get sufficient support, though any agreement is likely to center on “red flag laws” or universal background checks — two policies Republicans have expressed a willingness to consider. If this effort falls short, the Senate plans to vote on two House-passed bills focused on strengthening background checks in order to get lawmakers on the record on the issue ahead of the midterms. Despite an increase in mass shootings in recent years, gun control legislation has long been stalled in Congress due to Republicans’ unwillingness to support policies at the federal level. Whether that changes will become more apparent in the next two weeks. Here’s what could happen. Path one: Congress finds a bipartisan deal — and 10 Republican senators willing to support it The biggest obstacle in Congress is a lack of Republican support in the Senate. Because of the filibuster, most bills need 60 votes to pass, which would require 10 Republicans to join the 50-person Democratic caucus to approve any gun control legislation. Thus far, Democrats have been united on the subject. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), both centrist lawmakers who’ve defected from the caucus on other issues, have expressed support for gun control discussions. However, neither has indicated a willingness to eliminate the filibuster, which would enable Democrats to pass legislation with the members they have. As of Thursday, bipartisan talks were ongoing, with Republican lawmakers floating two potential options: Red flag laws: Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) is among the Republicans who have said they’re open to discussing a red flag law, similar to the yellow flag law in her home state of Maine. These policies enable law enforcement to confiscate firearms if someone is considered a threat to themselves or others; they have previously been discussed in Congress following 2019 shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. That year, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) negotiated a bill that would offer grant money to states to incentivize them to establish red flag laws, but it wasn’t able to get enough Republican support. On Thursday, Blumenthal said they’re revisiting a version of this bill. These laws — which have already been established in 19 states — enable family members or law enforcement to file petitions about the threat an individual poses. According to the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, more than 8,000 petitions were filed across the country in 2020 and 2021. The effectiveness of the law, however, depends heavily on implementation. As Vox’s Nicole Narea explained, a New York red flag law failed to stop the shooter in the recent Buffalo mass shooting that killed 10 Black Americans, because police chose not to pursue a petition even though he had been flagged for a psychiatric evaluation after threatening murder-suicide. Universal background checks: Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), meanwhile, suggested this week that universal background checks could be an area to focus on since it has previously gotten Republican support. In 2013, Toomey and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) reached a bipartisan agreement that garnered the support of four Republicans including Collins and then-Sens. Mark Kirk and John McCain. That bill, however, wasn’t able to get 60 votes and ultimately failed in the Senate. In poll after poll, universal background checks have been extremely popular. And while they wouldn’t address all the causes of gun violence, they would add a safeguard when it comes to gun access. Experts note that background checks are also central to other gun control proposals, like requiring each firearm owner to have a gun license. In addition to Collins and Toomey, several Republicans including Sens. Rob Portman (OH), Thom Tillis (NC), and John Cornyn (TX) have said they’d be willing to consider legislation while many have reiterated that any new policies should be left up to the states. “What I’ve asked Senator Cornyn to do is to meet with the Democrats who are interested in getting a bipartisan solution and come up with a proposal, if possible, that’s crafted to meet this particular problem,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told CNN on Thursday. Path Two: Democrats take a symbolic vote History tells us it’s more likely that Congress isn’t going to be able to reach a deal, given how entrenched opposition to gun control has been. Republicans just this week blocked the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act — a bill Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had framed as a vehicle for gun control efforts — from advancing. The bill, which was raised in response to the mass shooting in Buffalo, would have established new units at the Homeland Security Department, the Justice Department, and the FBI that focused on domestic terrorism. Schumer had said that lawmakers could debate policy additions to the bill if the procedural vote this week were to pass. In the end, however, 47 senators voted in favor of the bill, while 47 voted against it. Republicans opposed the bill because they didn’t see the need for new federal bodies focused on domestic terrorism, and expressed concerns that it could lead to disproportionate scrutiny of organizations on the right. If bipartisan talks collapse, Senate Democrats intend to hold votes on two other bills they know won’t pass, to show where lawmakers in both parties stand. As with recent votes on abortion rights, Democrats hope these votes could be used against Republicans in the midterm elections. Those bills would be: Bipartisan Background Checks Act: This bill would require background checks for all gun sales and close existing loopholes for gun shows and online sales. Enhanced Background Checks Act: This measure would address what’s known as the Charleston loophole, which enables an individual to buy a firearm without a completed background check if three days have elapsed. It would extend the window to 10 days, and directly address how the shooter who killed nine Black Americans in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015 was able to purchase a gun. Both measures advanced with a handful of Republican votes in the House and are widely expected to fail in the Senate. But Democrats think they’d provide fresh fodder to capitalize on public anger, something they hope they could channel into midterm campaigns that thus far don’t look promising. “One way or the other, we’re going to have a debate here. We’re going to force [legislators] to tell America which side they’re on,” Murphy said this week.

The long, long, twisty affair between the US military and Hollywood

Preview: When Tom Cruise starred in Top Gun in 1986, it wasn’t just a box office bonanza — it was a boon to the US military. | Paramount Pictures For the Pentagon, films like Top Gun: Maverick are more than just a movie. It came like a bolt from the blue, a gift from the heavens. In 1986, audiences flocked to theaters to see Tony Scott’s Top Gun, starring a fresh-faced Tom Cruise as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a hotshot Navy aviator bent on stardom. They kept coming for seven months. When the dust settled, the film had brought in over $176 million. Unlike its protagonist, who came in second at the eponymous elite flight academy, the film ended 1986 the top earner of the year. But for the Navy, Top Gun was more than just a movie. It was a recruitment bonanza. Military recruiting stations were set up outside movie theaters, catching wannabe flyboys hopped up on adrenaline and vibes. Others enlisted on their own. Interest in the armed forces, primarily the Navy and the Air Force, rose that year, though it’s unclear just how much. Naval aviator applications were claimed to have increased by a staggering 500 percent. Hollywood knows how to sell the life of a soldier. Top Gun paints the life of an elite pilot as mostly a real-life video game, with young men competing to top the charts at the academy. (The rankings were a fiction invented for the film, though the school is real.) In a sort of coda to the story, the pilots do engage in real combat — but we never know who the enemy is, barely get an explanation as to the mission, and mostly see them pulling off daring maneuvers to great acclaim. And in 1986, the US wasn’t engaged in a real-life war. Vietnam was becoming a more distant memory for young people. Who wouldn’t want to be a hero? So Top Gun was more than a gangbusters earner for Paramount; it was a coup for the Pentagon. In exchange for the enlistment bounce and a sexy, exciting perspective on the pilot’s life being presented to the general public, the military lent considerable aid to the production, from locations and equipment to personnel. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer has said that Top Gun would not have been made without the military’s assistance. This is far from an anomaly. Paramount Pictures Tom Cruise and Jennifer Connelly in Top Gun: Maverick. The American movie industry and the American military have had a long, well-documented, and, on the whole, mutually beneficial relationship since before World War II. Certainly, movies about war and its effects have been made without the aid of the military. But the military has often seen opportunity in the movies: for boosting the morale of the public, altering the popular image of wars and soldiers, and encouraging young people to enlist. In a film industry concerned primarily with profits and technology rather than ideology — which is to say, one essentially conservative in orientation — the partnership has often been an ideal match. But the nature of the collaboration has changed over time, with shifts in the US military’s role in the world as well as Hollywood’s aims. A movie like Top Gun: Maverick enters a very different world from its predecessor, and comes from an industry that has set its sights on raking in profit from not just America, but the whole world. It’s not just entertainment. It’s the apex of a lengthy and complicated history. The Pentagon and Hollywood go way, way back What happens when a large group of people immerse themselves in the same metanarrative over time? They begin to be directed by its implications, to see what it tells them as, essentially, true. In the case of the movies — for decades the mode of entertainment in America — that means there was a reality to cinema’s implications about the heroism of soldiers, the reasons for the struggle, the rightness of their cause. That has made Hollywood an attractive and powerful resource to the American military — and vice versa. What happens when a large group of people immerse themselves in the same metanarrative over time? They begin to see what it tells them as, essentially, true. The first Academy Award for Best Picture was awarded in 1929 to Wings, a silent war drama directed by World War I combat pilot veteran William Wellman and made with substantial support from the War Department (the Pentagon of its time). Wellman dedicated the film “to those young warriors of the sky whose wings are folded about them forever.” It was a massive hit. Thus a pattern was set, with filmmakers concerned about authenticity — and hoping to use some authentic equipment — soliciting help from the military. The relationship became even tighter when World War II began. The War Department needed to sell the war to the public, boost morale, and make the Allies’ case. They realized that Hollywood represented what might be an untapped resource. Mark Harris, a critic and film historian, wrote the book Five Came Back about the contributions that five legendary directors — Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston, George Stevens, and William Wyler — made to the WWII propaganda effort at the government’s behest. The work ranged from those intended for troops (like Capra’s Why We Fight series, which was eventually shown to the general public as well) to documentaries made for the general public with the intention of influencing public opinion. It was effective. That the government was the driving force behind these films — which were called propaganda briefly, before the word took on a pejorative sense — seems, to our ears, pretty sinister. But, as Harris explains, things were a little more complex during that time. The military saw the opportunity to support “morale films” or “educational films” that would help the American public understand what we were fighting for and against. Capra’s Why We Fight “makes the point over and over again that these three entities, Germany, Japan, and Italy, have people in the thrall of lunatic dictators, and that those guys were trying to create a slave world and what we were fighting for was a free world,” Harris explained. So this was an ideological aim, one on which Hollywood and the War Department were largely aligned. Yet the War Department rarely dictated the exact message they wished the filmmakers to convey — they weren’t “stenographers,” as Harris puts it. That means military support in this era was mostly a handing over of the reins, with relatively little input into the final results. “What they had the ability to do was say to John Ford, ‘We’re going to send you to Midway and we want you to film this battle,’” Harris said. “But they didn’t say, ‘This is exactly what we want you to do. This is the message we want you to get across.’” That doesn’t mean the military had no interest in the message they were sending. Huston’s documentary Let There Be Light — shot in 1946 and showing soldiers in a hospital living with the trauma of war — was banned by the Army, who feared it would have a demoralizing effect on post-war recruitment. Let There Be Light was suppressed until a belated release in 1980. U.S. Army Pictorial Services Faces of men in Let There Be Light, John Huston’s 1946 documentary, which was suppressed by the US military until 1980. In the post-War decades, however, ideological harmony between much of Hollywood and the military disappeared. So, you see a pivot, Harris says. “After Vietnam, the Pentagon would never say to Hollywood, ‘We’re all in the same business,’ which was basically the argument that was made during World War II. That came to an end with Vietnam, and what replaced it was this more transactional relationship.” It’s not that things got bad. They just became about business rather than ideals. The situation, Harris says, went “from the military saying to Hollywood, ‘We need you to help us,’ to the military saying to Hollywood, ‘We’ll help you. We’ll give you access.’” That transactional relationship is highly evident in the string of Reagan-era blockbusters that aimed to not just turn out audiences, but — implicitly or not — rehabilitate the image of the military in a post-Vietnam time of mistrust. Top Gun might be the most successful in that attempt. So you want to make a movie Say you’re a Hollywood filmmaker (or TV creator) who wants to tell a story that involves the military in some manner, even if your movie is about aliens or zombies or superheroes. In some countries, you’d have to submit your script or your movie for approval to the government before it could get made or distributed. But this is America. You can exercise your First Amendment right and tell any story you want. Except, hang on. Making a movie or a TV show is expensive. One way to get a studio to agree to produce your script is to trim the budget, and you can do that by cutting down on paying for equipment or extras. Maybe you’re concerned with making sure everything looks authentic, or with getting the Army’s response to disciplinary matters correct. Or maybe you just want to make sure you’ve got rank details straight. So you decide to ask for help. Depending on what you need, you might liaise with the designated entertainment coordinator in a particular branch of the military, or with the Pentagon generally. A tiny number of military personnel spend years, even decades, in the liaison role — reading scripts, working with directors, giving notes, and ultimately deciding if the military will lend its aid to the project. 20th Century Studios The US military withdrew support of Independence Day when the producers refused to remove references to Area 51. Todd Breasseale was one of them, a career Army officer who worked as the Army’s motion picture and television entertainment industry liaison for about six years beginning in 2002. He retired from the Army to join the Obama administration in 2014, and is now deputy assistant to the Secretary for Public Affairs at the Pentagon. In his liaison capacity, he told me by phone, his duties ranged from reading scripts for accuracy at the request of filmmakers to determining whether the Army would lend equipment, location, or personnel support to productions. “Sometimes it was entire scene rewrites that they needed help with,” he said. Other times, he might advise Steven Spielberg on technical details for a sequence in War of the Worlds, or work with the Transformers production to access locations that the Army owns. Often the role of the military comes in making equipment not currently in use available to production companies at cost — “every time you see a piece of military hardware that is not created through CGI, that cost is borne out by the production company,” he said. The company pays about how much it costs to keep a plane in the air hourly, far cheaper than renting commercial aircraft. “Unless a specific training mission was prescheduled and planned to be flown anyway, the production company would pay the hourly rate for that aircraft.” Soldiers are sometimes used as extras or pilots, too — perhaps if a filmmaker wants to shoot footage of a flyby. “Soldiers are paid anyway,” Breasseale said, because active duty service members receive a 24/7 salary. So the cost to the production company isn’t the union-mandated salary of a professional actor, stunt pilot, or extra; it’s just a per diem. “For instance, we shot a picture up in Canada and we brought in actual soldiers because they needed to be able to fly the Blackhawk helicopters. So they paid for the soldiers’ transportation up there, they paid a rate field cost for the Blackhawks, they paid the hourly rate for the Blackhawks, and then they paid the per diem and hotel expenses for the service members who are on set.” In other words, the taxpayer isn’t directly paying for the production costs, since the equipment and personnel would be getting paid for either way. The studio, however, gains a huge benefit if a deal is struck. That said, the trade-offs can be high. Frequently, notes are returned to filmmakers, asking them to change plot points in ways that make the film more palatable to the military, and specifically to the liaison who is working with the production. And the issues with this have been well-documented, perhaps most notably in reporter David L. Robb’s 2004 book Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies. Robb documents cases in which prominent filmmakers agreed to substantial rewrites to paint military personnel in a more positive light, or, at times, excise material in historical films that don’t fit the military’s official narrative. As he puts it: Millions of dollars can be shaved off a film’s budget if the military agrees to lend its equipment and assistance. And all a producer has to do to get that assistance is submit five copies of the script to the Pentagon for approval; make whatever script changes the Pentagon suggests; film the script exactly as approved by the Pentagon; and prescreen the finished product for Pentagon officials before it’s shown to the public. Some filmmakers refuse to comply with the notes, and they usually end up going their separate ways. But in many prominent cases, they agree, incorporating the military’s suggested changes into the script. For instance, as Robb writes in his book, the Navy agreed to let the original Top Gun production shoot on a naval base near San Diego, but that meant making some changes. Maverick’s love interest, played in the movie by Kelly McGillis, was originally written as a fellow soldier. But the navy forbids officers and enlisted personnel from fraternizing, so the script was changed in order to gain access to the naval base. Robb also writes (from 2004) that a sequel to Top Gun was thought to be impossible to make because the Navy feared it might hurt recruiting. The massive Tailhook scandal in 1991, in which navy pilots molested women at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel, cast the movie’s womanizing and drinking in a new light. The new film was, of course, eventually made, with considerable involvement from the military — and both drinking and sexual relationships (and the homophobic slurs of the original) are handled far differently. (It’s also very good, the rare and exhilarating sequel that transcends its original and doesn’t seem purely invented to build up excitement for the next installment.) So is the Pentagon censoring cinema? Even if you take a dim view, as many do, of the process of adopting military notes into scripts in return for support, it’s part of a long history of Hollywood self-censorship, often aimed at keeping the government from censoring them directly. In 1934, for instance, the major Hollywood studios voluntarily adopted a “Production Code” that banned, among other things, showing interracial marriage, or story lines in which clergy are disparaged or criminals are shown not being punished for their actions. Conformity to the Code lasted into the 1960s, when it was eventually replaced by an early version of the MPA ratings system we’re familiar with today. Hollywood has a long history of self-censorship, often aimed at keeping the government from censoring them directly You could see productions’ willingness to bend on these matters as a continuation of that tradition. Breasseale, for his part, sees this as a reasonable accommodation to request for productions seeking not just accuracy in storytelling, but an economic advantage. “The rules that I operated when I was out there is that it needed to be plausible,” he said. “So if you’re going to show a soldier committing a war crime, then you’re going to also need to show how the uniform code of military justice deals with that, and the punishment that they would suffer.” You might reasonably ask why the military even bothers getting involved when they just as reasonably could refuse to ever participate in a film production. Breasseale cited several reasons. The first is recruitment. “If you see positive representations of your military — well, frankly, it doesn’t even have to be positive,” he said. Seeing the military in action, sometimes portrayed as heroes and sometimes portrayed as members of an organization with a strict code of military justice, can be immensely appealing. It sure was for those who saw Top Gun. There’s another reason, particularly in our time, when despite having been at war for two decades, Breasseale pointed out, a sizable number of Americans haven’t had much contact with the military in real life. “There’s a lot to be said about the necessity to educate the American public about the military they’re paying for,” he said. In Breasseale’s view, the reason to participate in a production was that it would help provide a “substantive military portrayal.” If, during negotiations with a production, he felt that the studio “just wanted cheap props, essentially, that would typically get rejected out of turn.” He might tell them to work with unions, rather than just trying to get nearly-free soldiers. He’d also reject a production that was asking for the kind of equipment that could imperil “the believability of a picture” if not shown the way the military would use it — that they wanted to “bring a knife to a gun fight.” The whole process, he says, is reasonable and humane. He started working as the Army liaison in 2002, when “we were just starting a new era of war by politicians who had failed to find other alternatives,” as he puts it. “A lot of the scripts I was receiving at the time, even if they were set in contemporary settings in Iraq or Afghanistan or on a contemporary time period, were really movies about Vietnam. There were no substantive, decent, high-quality movies [about the military] between eras. There was an aura of the broken, crazy military vet who’s just one argument away from snapping and losing his shit.” “So,” he says, “a lot of what I did was help humanize a military that people have no touch with.” Robb sees this through a different lens; after all, both Hollywood and the military are selling something. He writes that “in the movies, when companies pay producers to show their products on screen, it’s called ‘product placement.’ But when the government provides incentives to producers to make the military look good in their movies, it’s known by a different name. It’s called ‘propaganda.’” Disney Brie Larson in Captain Marvel. Her character is an Air Force fighter pilot. Furthermore, he argues, “the military’s approval process … isn’t about making movies more authentic, it’s about creating positive images; it’s about making the military look better than it really is; it’s about making the military more attractive to potential recruits, taxpayers, and Congress.” You can see the point. The most popular movies on the planet currently are those in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, produced by Marvel Studios, which was acquired by the Walt Disney Company in 2009. Disney has a long, long history of working with the Pentagon, stretching back to public information and training cartoons as well as insignia produced during World War II. From the launch of the MCU, even before its Disney days, the same has often been true. All three Iron Man movies received military support. So did Captain America: The First Avenger. When Captain Marvel arrived in theaters in 2019, featuring a main character who is an Air Force pilot, it had been preceded by a flurry of cross-promotional materials with the Air Force, including an ad in which filmmakers and stars praised their collaboration: Though the US military plays a prominent role in many MCU films, they haven’t always worked together. Conflict arose, for instance, during production of The Avengers, in which the Pentagon found S.H.I.E.L.D., the shadowy fictional espionage organization that works closely with the Avengers, to be too “unrealistic.” The Avengers went ahead without Pentagon support. Should we be worried about this partnership? Depends on who you ask. Whether you agree more with Breasseale’s perspective or Robb’s depends on your answer to a fundamental question. From TV and movies to video games and more, the entertainment industry and the military have long seen one another as partners, ideologically and economically — but should they? And if your view of the military is generally positive — as it is for most Americans — does this still count as propaganda? In his foreword to Robb’s book, Jonathan Turley, a public interest law professor at George Washington University Law School, notes that “propaganda denotes a certain product; a packaged news account or film developed by a government or an organization to shape opinion … yet this is not traditional propaganda since the military does not generate the product itself and does not compel others to produce it. Rather, it achieves the same result through indirect influence; securing tailored historical accounts by withholding important resources.” What does it mean if the military has the financial power to say what version of history gets made? It’s that “tailored historical accounts” part that troubles me, at least in principle. For many people, movies are their most direct access point to the tales of war and heroism and history; think about World War II, and the images that spring to your mind are almost certainly culled from films. In the future, when those involved have passed away and our cultural relationship to truth has only gotten more corrupted, how will we access the truth about the ethically murky wars of the past several decades? Even if we know the facts and the films differ, will we care? What does it mean if the military has the financial power to say what version of history gets made? I ask Breasseale about this. “If I am party to a picture being made that I know presents only the wrong side, but an unfactual version of demonstrably provable events, then that’s propaganda. And so, if you can stay on the right side of those topics, to me, that is simply recruiting, or education. But it’s not propaganda.” “There have been academics, very serious academics, who’ve written books about this sort of thing, who believe that any support whatsoever to the motion picture industry is necessarily propaganda,” he concludes. “I just can’t get there. I can’t get my head around it, because it is not a black-and-white issue.” He’s right that it’s not a black-and-white issue — not at all. For one, Turley and Robb both note that some legal minds argue this use of military equipment, even if it’s not at taxpayer expense, is unconstitutional. Furthermore, at times (as in the case of the 2002 film Windtalkers) the military requires a film about an otherwise marginalized group to run against the established historical record. If a few military officers (who may have variable political agendas) hold that much power with relatively low accountability, how dangerous is the whole collaboration in the long run? Paramount Pictures Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick. Ironically, we may not be asking this question all that much longer. The development of high-quality computer-generated effects and even performers could eventually eliminate or greatly reduce the need on Hollywood’s side to strike a deal with the military to get a picture made. Lower-budget films may find themselves more readily in a place to tell all kinds of stories about history. Meanwhile, a film like Top Gun: Maverick’s charm comes, in part, from its almost nostalgic feeling, a film about heroism and military prowess that isn’t tethered to a particular war or enemy. But it also feels like the natural endpoint of that military-movie marriage, one that’s graduated from the Reagan-era, post-Vietnam rah-rah of Top Gun and into a geopolitically sticky world in which Hollywood wants to make movies for the whole globe. The film’s nearly three-year delay between production and distribution gave journalists plenty of time to dig into the ways the military and Paramount had cooperated. We still don’t know who they’re fighting in Top Gun: Maverick, and early reporting noted that the Japanese and Taiwanese flags on Tom Cruise’s iconic leather aviator jacket had been shifted to more generic symbols. It may just be that Hollywood has moved beyond its desire to work with the US military at all. It’s not that they’re no longer on America’s side; it’s just that they have to be on everyone’s side. And the transactional partnerships that come from that need are what will shape the future of Hollywood. Top Gun: Maverick premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and opens in the US on May 27.

How bad could the monkeypox outbreak get?

Preview: Passengers from Singapore walk past a monkeypox information panel and infrared thermometer displays checking their body temperature at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport near Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2019. | Andrew Gal/NurPhoto via Getty Images Health experts are optimistic monkeypox can be contained. Here’s why, and where it could go wrong. As of May 26, the global monkeypox case count tops 350, with cases spread across 23 countries. It’s easy to get a little shpilkes while wondering, what exactly are we in for? How big will this outbreak get, and how long will it be around? In the early days of any outbreak, epidemiologists try to answer these questions by first asking a different one: Is this virus containable? That is, can its spread be stopped before it gets out of control? If it is, that means the outbreak could be in our rearview mirror before the autumn. But if not, the public — and public health — could be in for a long slog. When it comes to monkeypox, many experts — including several I spoke with for this story — have emphatically said yes, this outbreak is containable. “There’s a solution just over the horizon,” said William Schaffner, an infectious disease and public health expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “This is one that I think we can nip in, if not in the bud, certainly in the flower.” Epidemiologists assess containment potential on the basis of a few different categories: the biology of the germ itself, the immunity and compliance in communities in which it’s spreading, and the public health capacity to respond. When it comes to monkeypox, experts assessing these factors feel reasonably confident this outbreak won’t swell to pandemic proportions. However, there are some vulnerabilities monkeypox can exploit to stick around longer. How exactly could the monkeypox outbreak play out? It comes down to these key factors. The biology of the monkeypox virus makes containment likely When epidemiologists are wondering if an outbreak can be contained, they start by considering the pathogen itself. Its innate characteristics determine how far of a reach the virus could have, and help experts figure out how to intervene in its spread. The first thing to consider is the route of transmission, said Eric Toner, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Most monkeypox transmission happens by skin-to-skin contact (although it also can be transmitted between people through respiratory secretions, via skin lesions, or exposure to recently contaminated objects). That makes it harder for one person to infect multiple people than it would be if the virus were primarily spread through the air. Whereas a more primarily airborne virus like SARS-CoV-2 can turn a choir practice into a superspreader event, monkeypox is unlikely to spread as explosively because infection requires direct contact. A second important variable is the incubation period, the time period between the moment of infection and the moment symptoms start. The longer a germ’s incubation period, the more time there is to intervene with measures that prevent spread, like quarantine or vaccination. Monkeypox’s incubation period is typically between 7 and 14 days (although it can range from 5 to 21 days). That’s a relatively long time, and it gives public health authorities a fighting chance at reaching infected people via contact tracing, in time to prevent them from becoming a source of transmission, either through quarantine or vaccination, Toner explained. A third key attribute, Toner said, is a pathogen’s ability to spread before it makes people sick (i.e., if it can be asymptomatically transmitted). Monkeypox is not thought to spread before people develop symptoms, which include fever, body aches, lymph node swelling, and a rash. That means it’s much easier for a person to notice when they might be contagious — and to take action by getting medical attention and isolating at home. (In contrast, Covid-19 can spread before a person starts to feel ill, which has made it very hard to contain.) CDC via Getty Images Monkeypox lesions from a 2003 case of the viral disease. The features of the symptoms themselves can also make it easier to control an outbreak. “You can look at somebody across the room and know that they have smallpox, for example, because they have a rash that no one would miss,” Toner said. Monkeypox’s rash is slightly less striking, he said: At different stages, it can mimic chickenpox, herpes, and syphilis. However, it is still distinctive enough that most clinicians will make the diagnosis without having to wait for a test result to come back — especially after the raft of information they’ve been receiving lately about monkeypox. In contrast, the symptoms of Covid-19 frustratingly resemble other common illnesses like colds and flus, making it harder to identify without testing. But the virus can exploit some vulnerabilities All that said, there are a few aspects of monkeypox that could vex containment efforts. While most lesions are painful, it might not be obvious to every infected person that they have monkeypox, especially early in the course of infection. That is particularly salient in this outbreak, where many infected people have been reporting a rash localized to the genital area, often after close social or sexual contact. “Sometimes it’s dark, and you don’t inspect that very carefully,” Schaffner said, “so there are environments where transmission can occur, particularly if the contact is kind of semi-anonymous or fleeting.” In those scenarios, it might not be obvious to an infected person that they have symptoms and could be contagious. This concern could be mitigated with good public outreach (more on that below). Overall, the virus’s biology and how it causes disease in humans suggest it should be containable. But there’s also the reality that many populations are less immune to monkeypox than they have been in the past. There was a time when everyone at risk for smallpox infection had been vaccinated against it. But since smallpox was eradicated in 1980, global smallpox vaccination campaigns have ceased — and the public’s protection against related viruses, including monkeypox, has waned. In 2020, the Pasteur Institute suggested that as smallpox vaccine protection dwindles, monkeypox is gaining epidemic potential. Although people who are old enough to have been vaccinated against smallpox still have some protection, they’re not the ones who are at greatest risk during the current outbreak, which is largely affecting younger people, said Agoritsa Baka, a public health preparedness expert at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. “Right now, most of the public, and particularly the groups that we’re interested in, are largely unvaccinated, so they are vulnerable to the virus,” she said. That makes this outbreak harder to contain than it would be if more people were immune. A final caveat is that experts’ understanding of monkeypox’s inherent containability hinges on the fact that the virus isn’t changing quickly (i.e., mutating) to evade control. Sequencing data obtained to date do not suggest the virus is evolving rapidly — and researchers don’t expect it to, tweeted Trevor Bedford, an epidemiologist and viral disease modeler at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle. Still, the world will be watching closely to determine whether genetic variability of the monkeypox virus is playing a role in its current spread, and its potential to be kept in check. Andrew Medichini/AP Hospital director Francesco Vaia speaks to reporters in Rome, Italy, on May 20. Vaia said three cases of monkeypox had been confirmed and isolated at his hospital in patients who traveled to the Canary Islands and Vienna. “Will it be contained” depends a lot on the communities the virus is spreading in Even when a germ’s intrinsic qualities favor its containment, it can cause big problems if there’s stigma associated with the activities that spread it. With monkeypox, homophobia could jeopardize disease control, because links have emerged between cases and attendance at venues catering to men who have sex with men. If infection risk gets too closely associated with behaviors that some people stigmatize, it might prevent them from cooperating with contact tracing or vaccination for fear of being associated with those behaviors. Health organizations run by and for gay men are an enormous asset to public health right now, and many of those organizations have longstanding relationships with public health, several experts told me. “Gay and bisexual men have been faced with HIV as a threat for three or four decades now, and we have a very activated community of people who are engaged in getting diagnosed and getting treated,” said John Brooks, chief medical officer at the CDC’s division of HIV prevention. And it’s not just men’s health groups who’ve helped educate and inform people in the LGBTQ community about monkeypox, Baka said. At least one festival linked to cases has posted a notice of infection risk on its website, and last weekend, two dating apps commonly used in Europe by gay and bisexual men began displaying public health messages about monkeypox in several languages. That kind of community buy-in helps key information reach people who might otherwise be skeptical of engaging with government public health agencies. “The challenge definitely is to engage with the community so that people can go get tested without prejudice,” said Baka. When a disease’s modes of transmission are highly stigmatized, messaging related to the disease has to walk a careful line. On one hand, frank communication in language that out gay and bisexual men commonly use is best for efficiently providing these communities with non-judgmental information. “If you treat people with respect and meet them where they are, it can go a very long way,” said Brooks. On the flip side, trumpeting the link between infection risk and getting close and sweaty at events for LGBTQ people can instigate stigma, Schaffner said. An ideal communications strategy likely uses different language and emphasizes different elements of risk with different populations. So far, Schaffner has been glad to see these associations often mentioned without sensationalism, even in news reports. “It’s not the lede,” he said, but “the third paragraph of the story.” Containing monkeypox will take effort in a strained-but-prepared public health system As the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated, a robust public health system is a necessary ingredient of outbreak containment. Baka said that in this case, pandemic fatigue is to some degree a threat to containment. “People are tired. All the health care workers are tired, including the public health workforce,” she said. Charles Bouessel/AFP via Getty Images Medical staff wearing protective equipment enter a quarantine area in Zomea Kaka, Central African Republic, where clusters of monkeypox cases were reported, in 2018. But there’s still a lot of optimism they can control the monkeypox outbreak, she said, in part because that workforce is so experienced at curtailing infection transmission, whether the infections are sexually transmitted or not. Additionally, as a result of Covid-19, new technologies exist to make contact tracing easier than it used to be. “This does require a lot of shoe-leather epidemiology,” Schaffner said, referring to the contact tracing epidemiologists do to identify cases and contacts during an outbreak, sometimes by pounding the pavement in person. It’s also immensely helpful to have vaccines and medications that we know can prevent and treat monkeypox at the outset of this outbreak. The US Food and Drug Administration has approved several medications to treat smallpox, which CDC representatives said Monday could also be used to treat monkeypox. The Strategic National Stockpile contains three types of smallpox vaccines, which would also prevent monkeypox. What’s unique and particularly helpful about the existing vaccines is that they work to protect people who receive them even if they’re vaccinated after they’re exposed, said Toner. Vaccination within four days of exposure can block infection altogether, he said, and vaccines still lessen the disease’s severity even if given later in the course of infection. That makes vaccinating cases and ring vaccination — vaccinating all the contacts of a case — a viable strategy for preventing the spread of infection, adding another point in favor of monkeypox being containable. Already, public health authorities in several European countries and the US are deploying these strategies, offering monkeypox vaccines to close social and health care contacts of cases. Containment is possible. But the window could soon start closing. Several experts were up front about why taking aggressive measures to contain monkeypox now are particularly urgent: Pride celebrations are coming up, and two-plus years into the Covid-19 pandemic, people are eager to party, said Brooks. “If there were to be non-compliance with containment measures, and it started transmitting more among the broader population, then it would be harder to contain,” Toner said. There are backup plans: If the current containment strategies of contact tracing and ring vaccination don’t work, escalated vaccination strategies could involve vaccinating people in groups at high risk for infection or severe disease, regardless of whether they are cases or contacts. That would mean offering vaccines to people attending large gatherings where they’re likely to engage in the kind of contact that spreads monkeypox, such as certain Pride festivities. Meanwhile, groups offered the vaccine due to higher risk for severe disease would likely include immunocompromised people, including people with HIV, as well as pregnant people and children — but we’re not there yet. For now, vaccine availability is not a problem, as many countries have stockpiles of smallpox vaccine as part of their bioterrorism preparedness strategies. However, companies that make these vaccines are ramping up production in case a larger supply is needed. Fundamentally, an outbreak is likelier to be stopped in its tracks if it’s caused by a pathogen public health has successfully fought before, either with medicines or proven strategies like ring vaccination. And that’s also why experts are so optimistic. “That’s how smallpox was eradicated, and I believe that’s how monkeypox will be contained,” Toner said. The smaller an outbreak is, the easier it is to contain. A plateau of the monkeypox case count would be a promising sign that things are headed in a positive direction. Over the next few weeks, epidemiologists — and the world — will be watching to see if their hopes of curbing this virus’ spread are fulfilled.

Why gun control feels out of reach — and why there’s still hope

Preview: Gun control advocacy groups rally with Democratic members of Congress outside the US Capitol on May 26, 2022, in Washington, DC. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images A gun control expert on mass shootings, the progress gun control advocates have made, and why the NRA no longer defines gun culture in the US. By now, it’s a vicious, horrific cycle: In the wake of yet another mass shooting, the public reels from a combination of grief, outrage, and frustration. The shooting at an Uvalde, Texas, elementary school on May 24 is the worst school shooting since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. It’s also a reminder of how little has changed since then to enact meaningful gun control legislation. In fact, if anything, gun laws around the country have become radically more permissive: Since 2020, 24 states have passed extreme permitless carry laws, with more likely to follow, despite strong resistance from law enforcement, the public, and gun safety advocates — and despite research suggesting that more permissive laws lead to more gun violence. Gun control laws seem to be an impossible goal to achieve, and the situation is essentially as dire as it looks. But dire doesn’t mean all hope is lost — and it doesn’t mean that there’s been no forward movement on issues of gun control and gun safety. Matthew Lacombe teaches political science at Columbia University’s Barnard College. He’s also the author of Firepower: How the NRA Turned Gun Owners Into a Political Force, which looks at the rise of gun culture and the role of gun ownership as a political identity. Lacombe spoke with Vox to help make sense of this senseless moment, including why a seemingly weakened NRA doesn’t mean a weakened gun rights movement. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity. After Columbine, many gun control experts seemed to argue that there was a missing gun control movement, and that if we just got people together and got them to organize and be proactive that we could pass gun control legislation at a federal level. But I feel like we’ve had that momentum since Sandy Hook, and certainly since Parkland, but that movement obviously hasn’t been enough. I would agree with the first part that historically there’s been a missing movement for gun control. I also agree that we’ve seen something that we probably should and can call a movement since Sandy Hook, but that hasn’t translated into substantial federal-level gun control measures. Having said that, I do think there are different ways you could measure movement success and that the more recent efforts on behalf of gun control have achieved some of those steps. It just hasn’t translated into policy victories yet, which is the ultimate goal and which is obviously a crucial step in actually creating change. I think some folks feel like because there haven’t been major policy wins yet that the efforts of gun safety advocates over the past 10 or so years have all been for naught. I’m not sure that’s the case. I think that winning policy victories, especially in the current moment and given the institutional structure of our lawmaking institutions, is really hard. The frustration people feel is totally justified and appropriate. My point is just that moments like these, if you’re interested in passing gun safety regulations, are not moments to feel hopeless, but moments to keep rallying, to keep up pressure, and to try to keep building power. Most of those incremental steps you mention are probably invisible to most people if they don’t result in clear, concise policy changes that people can point to. Can you say more about them? One thing we’ve seen since Sandy Hook is increased organization-building on behalf of gun safety — the establishment and growth of a number of different organizations. We’ve also seen a greater balance in terms of political participation on behalf of gun control. Although most Americans have historically favored gun control regulations, the minority of Americans who oppose them have historically mobilized on behalf of that view at higher rates than gun control supporters. But we’ve seen a shift in that dynamic, and we’ve seen higher levels of sustained participation on behalf of gun control. If the NRA went out of business tomorrow, the gun debate would change, but their supporters would not simply disappear We’ve seen movement on the state level in certain places in the country, mostly blue states but not always. We’ve also seen a shift in which Democratic politicians, albeit imperfectly, are more willing to take strong stances in favor of gun control than they were 10 or 15 years ago. So, for example, Democrats in the 2008 presidential primary were reluctant to really take on this issue, whereas in the 2020 primary, we saw Democrats trying to sort of out-flank each other to the left. I would say that those are all signs of progress. Having said that, I think in this current moment, what it would take for strong federal-level regulations on guns to pass would be unified Democratic control of government with 60 Democratic senators, or the filibuster being abolished. Republicans are pretty entrenched in their opposition to gun regulations, such that we basically need unified Democratic control with a supermajority in the Senate. After a series of scandals and leadership changes in the last couple years, there’s been a general perception that the NRA’s hold over the gun rights movement has weakened. I’m not sure that’s true in terms of their structural power. Is it? From the outside, a political system in which one party is beholden to an organization like the NRA might seem similar to another situation in which our lawmaking institutions are ill-equipped for dealing with a range of pressing sociopolitical issues. So it could be the case that the NRA’s power is waning, and that the lack of movement on gun control is just another instance across a broad range of issues in which the federal government has not been able to pass urgently needed legislation. Or it could be the case that the NRA still holds strong. Or it could be a third situation in which the NRA organizationally is substantially weakened, but gun owners — as a social group, as a political group, and as a Republican-leaning constituency — still remain really politically active. I would even question the idea that there has been a weakening. Since 2020, we’ve seen 24 states pass extreme permitless carry laws, with many more likely to follow. Permitless carry is the new priority. It seems paradoxical, right? You have an NRA that is itself organizationally in disarray, and yet you see not much changing in terms of policy. The NRA’s power is a product of the political constituency that it’s developed — a large, active, and politically unified group. That source of power isn’t related to the organization’s money, so it holds steady even when the organization isn’t firing on all operating cylinders. If the NRA went out of business tomorrow, the gun debate would change, but the supporters that the NRA has cultivated over time would not simply disappear. They would continue to care deeply about this issue, and other organizations would fill that void. And although the NRA is objectively politically extreme, a lot of the organizations that might fill that void are actually to the NRA’s right — they’re groups that think the NRA has been too weak. There are efforts that have been launched by some gun safety advocacy organizations, such as Giffords, to get responsible gun owners on board. Ryan Busse recently wrote a book called Gunfight. He worked in the gun industry and he’s not an anti-gun person, but he thinks there’s a lot of room for gun owners to support additional regulations that aren’t currently reflecting the status quo. But I’m not sure that sort of organization would be successful at pulling in people left behind by the NRA, because where the NRA continues to weaken, a lot of folks have really bought into, not just liking guns, but the broader political worldview around guns. That suggests that the ideology behind gun rights activism is no longer purely about preserving the Second Amendment. We think about gun ownership as a social and political identity. Gun owners don’t just see guns as objects that might be used for self-defense or recreation, but instead as symbols of who they are politically and their broader set of sociopolitical beliefs. Gun ownership is not something that you would automatically expect to be a salient political identity. Gun owners don’t just see guns as objects that might be used for self-defense or recreation, but as symbols of their broader set of sociopolitical beliefs This identity intertwines with other identities that gun owners are likely to hold, many of which are also aligned with Republican partisan identity. For the majority of gun owners, their social identity as a gun owner might align with their evangelical identity or with views that have been described as Christian nationalist. It has to do with white racial identity, it has to do with masculine gender identity, all of which are wrapped up in Republican identity, particularly Republicans with strong support for Donald Trump. On the one hand, that alignment alienates some people who might otherwise support gun rights but who are turned off by all those other viewpoints. But its main consequence is deepening the commitment and broadening the range of issues through which this general lens of gun ownership is deemed relevant. We sometimes lose the broader context that the gun issue is wrapped up with a whole bunch of other issues that are really important politically. People’s views on gun control are often shaped by much more than whether we think background checks would be good or bad. One widespread public reaction to the Robb Elementary shooting is the idea that we’re in a moment of severe political regression around abortion rights, yet “pro-life” lawmakers also tend to be stridently pro-gun in a way that feels hypocritical. How do single-issue anti-abortion voters react to moments like this? Does it shake their purpose in any way? I think it depends on the extent to which that sort of pro-life identity — let’s think of it as an identity rather than just as an issue stance — is aligned with Republican partisan identity. If they see Republicans as the good guys on the abortion issue, then I’m not sure that even an event like [the mass shooting] is likely to reshape their voting behavior, because they’re still going to think that the best thing they can do in regard to that single issue that they care about most is to continue voting for Republicans. They might say, in a poll or in conversation with their friends, that they’d be fine if more gun regulations were passed, but they’re not going to change their behavior in ways that would contribute to that legislation. What are the stories that in your experience have proven to change people’s minds and get them to think differently about this issue? The Parkland survivors were a powerful story of survival, but not enough to actually make progress. I think continuing those efforts and continuing to appeal to people on the basis of protecting children will help the movement and might lead to opportunities to create otherwise unexpected, strange bedfellows and political arrangements. I think gun safety advocates would be wise to form coalitions with people who are really interested in other forms of child protection. What’s difficult to say is the extent to which those other movements are tied together. Here’s one way to think about it, but it’s a little wonky. There are issue connections and ideology at play — which sorts of issues seem to logically fit together politically. You could see gun regulations aimed at protecting schools fitting into a sort of broader range of positions that people think are protective of children, but then there are also other political coalitions that have already formed between different social groups. And those ties can create an us-versus-them environment. Overcoming those outlooks can be really hard. From an issue perspective, it seems obviously hypocritical to hold a whole set of positions aimed at protecting children but then to not hold this other one related to protecting children from the effects of guns in schools. But if you take a step back and think about the more longstanding political coalitions that exist, it’s easier to make sense of, even if it’s frustrating. Politicians tend to think about things in terms of votes won and votes lost. So having a few more percentage points of the public shift to the gun control side isn’t going to tip the balance. If that were the case, we would have seen the enactment of strong gun safety regulations long ago because public opinion has been on the side of gun control ever since public opinion polls have existed. It’s more a question of building a movement that can pressure politicians, particularly politicians within the Democratic Party, to really prioritize this issue. If we look at the two recent mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, those regions of the country are not politically similar. New York state has very different laws than Texas, yet we see similar events occurring there despite more restrictive gun laws. Are guns so widely available that the idea of gun control at this point is really just window dressing? I think that mass shootings are particularly hard to prevent, and where they occur within the country is somewhat random. I think sometimes the conversation around guns falls into a trap where the bar that gun-control proposals have to meet is the total prevention of mass shootings. I don’t think that that is a reasonable bar. Get on the local level. The way these things work best is bottom-up. If you think about seat belts, seat belts don’t necessarily prevent fatalities during car crashes. But they make fatalities less likely, and on average, they reduce the number of traffic fatalities. Mass shootings can occur in places that have strong gun regulations and they can occur in places that have weak gun regulations. Given the number of guns that exist in US society, they probably won’t go away, even if new regulations are passed. I think the right bar is trying to make them less frequent and trying to make them less deadly when they do occur. The other thing that happens is that mass shootings, particularly school shootings, serve as focusing events. Their tragic nature brings a ton of attention to this issue. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s appropriate for these to be conversation-generating moments. But what’s interesting is that despite how frequently they occur in the US, they nonetheless comprise a rather small proportion of annual gun-related deaths. So if you’re in favor of gun safety regulation, you want to take the unfortunate opportunity presented by moments like this to not just talk about ways that mass shootings might be reduced, but to more generally focus on measures that might reduce everyday rates of gun misuse. So, mass shootings are really hard to predict, and probably distinctly hard to prevent. But that in itself isn’t necessarily evidence that gun regulations are ineffective. It just means that they’re not perfect, just like any policy intervention is imperfect. To truly control not only the frequency but the deadliness of these incidents would require a broad-spectrum overhaul of the way we approach not only gun availability, but things like mental health, gun manufacturing and training, public safety, even things like domestic violence training for law enforcement officers. So many factors contribute to the big picture of gun control. There’s no single policy that’s going to be effective. There’s no magic. Right. It’s overwhelming. I do feel like a lot of people feel a sense of fatalism over this issue — this sense that the nation as a whole has given up. This obviously applies to many more things than just gun control, but I think gun control is an especially crucial issue that many people feel hopeless about. Does anything signal to you that it’s not all despair? I think that the gun safety advocacy movement is as strong now as it’s been in my lifetime. I’m in my mid-30s. So, no, despite what many people think, I don’t think that Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun debate. I think the folks advocating on behalf of gun control have made real gains in terms of building a movement and establishing effective organizations and institutionalizing those organizations and building political power. They’ve been persistent and dedicated and savvy, and those efforts have not led to federal level gun control laws, but have been effective changing the debate in certain ways and achieving policy gains on the city level and different places. But I think the more depressing answer is that this issue, like other issues, is currently shaped by the nature of US democracy, which makes dealing with pressing social issues incredibly difficult. I think it basically requires unified Democratic control of government with either the abolishment of the filibuster or a supermajority in the Senate. If that had existed when Sandy Hook happened, gun control would’ve passed. If it were to exist right now, gun control would pass. The reality of the situation is that it’s very hard for that to happen. It’s hard in a polarized country for any political party to get 60 seats in the Senate, but it’s particularly hard for a political party like the Democrats, who are at a disadvantage right now both because of the nature of how Senate seats are apportioned and because of gerrymandering and geographic partisan sorting. So I think the more depressing statement is that in some ways gun control, like many political issues, depends on democracy reform. Having said that, change is possible in politics, especially in moments when people are anxious and scared and alarmed and disgusted by world events. So I do think this could be a moment to really focus on portraying this issue as one related to protecting kids and as something that everyone who’s interested in protecting kids should care about. Still, it’s not going to be easy to hold a coalition together that’s divided on a range of other issues. Do you have any advice for how people can take care of themselves and their kids and communities and help each other make sense of this moment? I would say, politically, get involved, and get involved on the local level. Gun safety advocacy organizations have established chapters around the country, and the way these things work best is bottom-up. The road forward is not particularly clear or easy or likely to yield short-term successes, but I think the best way to channel one’s frustrations would be to get involved. But also, you know, hug your kids. That’s not gonna necessarily keep them safe, but it’s scary for everyone.

How America fails children

Preview: A woman hugs a girl as they cry during a vigil for the victims of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 25. | Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images US public policy is a disaster on guns — and so much more. In ways big and small — in schools, in homes, in every facet of life — the United States fails to protect and support its children. School shootings, like the massacre in Uvalde, Texas, that has left 19 students and at least two adults dead this week, are one of the most visceral examples of that failure. A second generation is now growing up in a world where school shootings are part of life. Columbine didn’t lead to meaningful policy change; neither did Sandy Hook; neither did Parkland; and the terrible truth is that Uvalde may not either. The number of children killed by guns every day in the United States, in incidents that never make national news, is much higher than the death toll of victims in school shootings. The firearm homicide rate for US children ages 0-14 is astronomical compared to other wealthy nations, according to data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, with hundreds of budding American lives lost every year. Suicides by gun and accidental firearm deaths among kids are also far higher in the United States than its economic peers. Guns now kill more kids than car accidents, in part because, through design changes and new regulations, cars have gotten safer while guns have only become more accessible and lethal. Dylan Scott/Vox But this country’s inability to support and protect its own kids extends far beyond gun deaths, which can also be seen as part of a broader failure to prioritize the well-being of children and families. “From the very beginning of life, we expect families to take care of their own children,” Jessica Calarco, a sociologist at Indiana University who studies child and family policy, said. “The government is essentially telling families: You’re on your own. We don’t care.” Many of these failures are long term. But the past few months have made them inescapable. Less than six months ago, Congress allowed the expanded child tax credit — one of the most successful policy experiments in reducing child poverty in US history — to expire. Children are still waiting for a Covid-19 vaccine, as frustration with the regulatory agencies overseeing that process grows. And America is currently importing baby formula from Europe because its own market has allowed an enormous shortage to develop in the last year, putting the health of infants and children at risk. Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images Natalia Restrepo, right, speaks to a mother about baby formula, at a food pantry run by La Colaborativa in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on May 20. By the end of the summer, federal funding that has provided free school lunches to almost every American student for the past two years will run out without being renewed. Emergency Medicaid provisions that were instituted during the pandemic could expire too, leading to as many as 6.7 million children losing health coverage. The consequences of the collective policy shortcomings are everywhere. One is the terrible annual toll of US children and young adults killed by guns: 10,186 in 2020. Another is that one in five children in the US live in poverty, comparable to Chile and Romania, and double (or more) the rate of child poverty of Sweden, the Netherlands, and Germany. Infant mortality is higher than in the rest of the wealthy world. The OECD published an analysis in November 2017, evaluating how the US compared to other rich countries on various metrics of child well-being. America ranked in the top third for just three of the 20 categories they covered. It was in the bottom third for 10 of them. Academics have an ironic term for this phenomenon: “American exceptionalism.” “We stand alone and we have for decades in terms of our disinvestment in children,” Jennifer Glass, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, told me. “You muck it up for the first 20 years of that kid’s life, you can’t come back and remedy it.” The reasons for this uniquely American failure are multifold. The solutions will not be easily attained. But until we resolve to fix it, our future will be that much dimmer. American public policy doesn’t value children Rhetoric is cheap. If you want to know where a society’s priorities truly lie, look at how it spends its money. About 9 percent of the federal budget is being spent on children, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. The elderly, on the other hand, are afforded more than one-third of federal spending. “It’s very little,” Isabel Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution who focuses on child and family programs, said of federal spending on children. “We haven’t been doing enough for our kids.” Spending for elderly programs like Medicare and Social Security is automatic; Congress never has to pass a new bill to make sure those benefits reach Americans over 65. But most of the spending for children is discretionary; Congress must vote to appropriate those dollars every year and, if there is a lapse in funding, there will be a corresponding lapse in benefits. Taken together, the federal welfare programs for children and families — everything from food stamps to cash assistance to health coverage — are a pittance compared to what our economic peers spend. Australia spends about 2.1 percent of its GDP on public policies and programs that support families. Norway spends 3.2 percent, as does the United Kingdom. The US spends 0.6 percent, less than Costa Rica and Mexico. Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images Deborah Jendrasko gives out free lunches to students at Deering High School in Portland, Maine, in July 2021. The meals were available to students in summer programs as well as any children from the community. Child welfare programs are also means-tested, accessible only for those who complete a burdensome application process, which creates a uniquely American stigma around government assistance, as Jack Meserve wrote in an essay for Democracy last year. Calarco said she has interviewed families who declined to apply for free or reduced-price school lunches because they didn’t want their children looked down on. (High-poverty schools can offer free lunch to all students without needing to prove eligibility, but that doesn’t help all poor kids and families.) Schools — even schools whose names don’t become cultural bywords for the mass death of children — are another forum for America’s failures. In the aggregate, the US spends a comparative amount of money on children’s education to other wealthy nations — but that money is not spent equitably. School funding is a patchwork of federal, state, and local dollars; much of the local money is dependent on local property values (read: taxes). And school funding differs dramatically from state to state and district to district; some school districts spend as little as $6,000 every year for each student and some spend close to $30,000; in some states, low-income districts get less money than high-income ones. The actual education outcomes that American students attain for that spending are middling. The way our public policies affect parents also affects their children. The United States is also the only wealthy nation without guaranteed paid family leave or paid sick leave, both of which limit a parent’s ability to bond with and take care of their child. Two other American crises, the opioid crisis and mass incarceration, provide another example: A recent study from researchers at the University of Maryland and UCLA found that higher local rates of opioid overdose deaths corresponded to a lower rate of children living with two married parents, a family structure associated with better life outcomes. Another paper from sociologists at Washington University in St. Louis and Duke University found that families with a family member imprisoned were worse off, even accounting for preexisting disadvantages: they are more likely to face financial hardship, and their children are more likely to have mental health and behavioral problems and to do worse in school than their peers. America is capable, in a moment of crisis, of providing better support for children and families. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Congress temporarily approved an expanded child tax credit that functioned as a monthly stipend for many families and funded universal school lunches. Emergency Medicaid provisions also ensured health coverage for millions of children and their family members. Andrea Morales/The Washington Post via Getty Images Melissa Roberts fixes dinner for her children at their home in Marks, Mississippi, in January. Roberts lost her job at an insurance company at the start of the pandemic. She had relied on the federal child tax credit to help provide for her children. Child poverty and hunger fell, even amid the most catastrophic public health emergency of our lives. It was a wildly successful policy experiment. And yet soon, those programs will be allowed to lapse. “It’s telling that that’s what we got rid of,” Calarco said. “We got rid of the programs we made universal during the pandemic.” Why the US is so negligent in its treatment of its own kids America’s policy negligence toward its children is, in some ways, a symptom of its general conservative attitude about government assistance. We have a stingy safety net for the childless poor too. “To my mind, the lack of US social policy pertaining to the safety and well-being of families and children boils down to our distrust of government and our belief that family life is a private and personal matter,” said Daniel Carlson, a sociologist at the University of Utah. “We see children not as the public good that they are but as an individual choice, and thus a personal responsibility.” That ideology places an enormous burden on parents — and mothers in particular — to carry the weight of raising their children. In the US, about 70 percent of mothers are the primary support for their children in their first year, Glass said. That dependence lasts for five years on average, about a third of their childhood. “What we’ve seen over time: more and more and more of this burden falling onto mothers,” Glass said. “We expect that mothers will do all of this labor of creating and reproducing the next generation for free because they always have.” But Australia is also a country with an individualistic spirit and a self-mythology about pioneers conquering the frontier, and that country still spends four times as much money on public programs for children and families, as a share of its GDP, as America does. Germany used to be much more conservative in its public support for families, Carlson said, until its declining birth rate in the 1990s and early 2000s led the country to start remaking its social safety net for children. Some experts see more nefarious forces at work. For one, a smaller safety net benefits the rich and corporations, who would be called upon to pay higher taxes if the US decided that it would provide more financial support for children and families. Elise Amendola/AP Christina Darling prepares a snack with her sons at home in Nashua, New Hampshire, in July 2021. Darling and her family qualified for the expanded child tax credit. “Every step closer we get to a livable wage is beneficial,” Darling told the AP. Then there is old-fashioned American racism, which almost every expert I spoke cited as an influence. There is a perception, even among white working-class families who also rely on government benefits, that these social programs primarily benefit Black and brown families. Sawhill said she had participated in focus groups in which that sentiment became apparent. Though they might not articulate it in exactly this way, she said, she got the impression that many white people, even poorer ones, thought that “we wouldn’t have so much poverty and inequality if we weren’t such a heterogenous country.” There is something self-destructive about America’s negligence of its own children. Supporting children — feeding them, educating them, protecting them from violence — is self-evidently good. But it is also necessary to securing a next generation of American adults, who will perpetuate our economy, our culture, our society. And yet, the United States seems to be self-sabotaging through its failure to do so. The children who grow up hungry and in poverty, whose schools fail to fully educate them, will on average live shorter lives with dimmer economic prospects. “Generation after generation, you start to see the United States slipping,” Glass said. “These are the kinds of things that over time are going to hurt a nation.” One explanation won’t suffice. But what is clear is that the structural forces that stand in the way of so many policy reforms have also made America a worse place for our children. That fact is unavoidable at times like this, when the US’s failure to meaningfully constrain gun ownership and the number of guns in circulation has contributed to the deaths of 19 innocent children in Uvalde, Texas. But it was true on Monday, the day before the shooting, and it will continue to be true until the nation’s leaders decide to change it.

America’s unique, enduring gun problem, explained

Preview: A person grieves at a makeshift memorial set up outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 25. | Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images The factors that lead to tragedies like Uvalde are deeply ingrained in US politics, culture, and law. Tuesday’s mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, 10 days after a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, has once again brought American exceptionalism on gun violence into stark relief. No other high-income country has suffered such a high death toll from gun violence. Every day, more than 110 Americans die at the end of a gun, including suicides and homicides, an average of 40,620 per year. Since 2009, there has been an annual average of 19 mass shootings, when defined as shootings in which at least four people are killed. The US gun homicide rate is as much as 26 times that of other high-income countries; its gun suicide rate is nearly 12 times higher. Gun control opponents, including virtually every Republican, have typically framed the gun violence epidemic in the US as a symptom of a broader mental health crisis. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott reiterated that rhetoric in a press conference, suggesting that improving access to mental health resources, not reevaluating his state’s lax gun laws, should be the primary response to the Uvalde shooting. But every country has people suffering from mental health issues and extremists like the Buffalo shooter; those problems aren’t unique. What is unique is the US’s expansive view of civilian gun ownership, ingrained in politics, in culture, and in the law since the nation’s founding, and a national political process that has so far proved incapable of changing that norm. “America is unique in that guns have always been present, there is wide civilian ownership, and the government hasn’t claimed more of a monopoly on them,” said David Yamane, a professor at Wake Forest University who studies American gun culture. That’s left many wondering how many more people — including children — need to die before the US takes federal action. The US has a lot of guns, and more guns means more gun deaths It’s hard to estimate the number of privately owned guns in America since there is no countrywide database where people register whether they own guns, and there is a thriving black market for them in the absence of strong federal gun trafficking laws. !function(){"use strict";window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if(void 0!["datawrapper-height"])for(var e in["datawrapper-height"]){var t=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-"+e)||document.querySelector("iframe[src*='"+e+"']");t&&(["datawrapper-height"][e]+"px")}});window.addEventListener('DOMContentLoaded',function(){var i=document.createElement("iframe");var e=document.getElementById("datawrapper-GHnG7");var t=e.dataset.iframeTitle||'Interactive graphic';i.setAttribute("src",e.dataset.iframe);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("frameborder","0");i.setAttribute("scrolling","no");i.setAttribute("aria-label",e.dataset.iframeFallbackAlt||t);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("height","400");i.setAttribute("id","datawrapper-chart-GHnG7");"100%";"none";e.appendChild(i)})}() One estimate from the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based research project, found that there were approximately 390 million guns in circulation in the US in 2018, or about 120.5 firearms per 100 residents. That number has likely climbed in the years since, given that one in five households purchased a gun during the pandemic. But even without accounting for that increase, US gun ownership is still well above any other country: Yemen, which has the world’s second-highest level of gun ownership, has only 52.8 guns per 100 residents; in Iceland, it’s 31.7. American guns are concentrated in a tiny minority of households: just 3 percent own about half the nation’s guns, according to a 2016 Harvard and Northeastern University study. They’re called “super owners” who have an average of 17 guns each. Gallup, using a different methodology, found that 42 percent of American households overall owned guns in 2021. Researchers have found a clear link between gun ownership in the US and gun violence, and some argue that it’s causal. One 2013 Boston University-led study, for instance, found that for each percentage point increase in gun ownership at the household level, the state firearm homicide rate increased by 0.9 percent. And states with weaker gun laws have higher rates of gun-related homicides and suicides, according to a January study by the gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. The link between gun deaths and gun ownership is much stronger than the link between violence and mental health issues. If it were possible to cure all schizophrenia, bipolar, and depressive disorders, violent crime in the US would fall by only 4 percent, according to a study from Duke University professor Jeffrey Swanson, who examines policies to reduce gun violence. There’s still a pervasive idea, pushed by gun manufacturers and gun rights organizations like the National Rifle Association, that further arming America is the answer to preventing gun violence — the “good guy with a gun” theory. But a 2021 study from Hamline University and Metropolitan State University found that the rate of deaths in 133 mass school shootings between 1980 and 2019 was 2.83 times greater in cases where there was an armed guard present. “The idea that the solution to mass shootings is that we need more guns in the hands of more people in more places so that we’ll be able to protect ourselves — there’s no evidence that that’s true,” Swanson said. Allison Dinner/AFP via Getty Images Church members after a Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Uvalde, Texas, on May 25, one day after a gunman in body armor killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School. The prevalence of the self-defense narrative is part of what sets apart the gun rights movement in the US from similar movements in places like Canada and Australia, according to Robert Spitzer, a professor at SUNY Cortland who studies the politics of gun control. Self-defense has become by far the most prominent reason for gun ownership in the US today, eclipsing hunting, recreation, or owning guns because they’re antiques, heirlooms, or work-related. That’s also reflected in ballooning handgun sales, since the primary purpose of those guns isn’t recreational, but self-defense. American gun culture “brings together the hunting-sporting tradition with the militia-frontier tradition, but in modern times the hunting element has been eclipsed by a heavily politicized notion that gun carrying is an expression of freedom, individuality, hostility to government, and personal self-protection,” Spitzer said. That culture of gun ownership in the US has made it all the more difficult to explore serious policy solutions to gun violence after mass shootings. In high-income countries lacking that culture, mass shootings have historically galvanized public support behind gun control measures that would seem extreme by US standards. Canada banned military-style assault weapons two weeks after a 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia. In 2019, less than a month after the Christchurch massacre, New Zealand lawmakers passed a gun buyback scheme, as well as restrictions on AR-15s and other semiautomatic weapons, and they later established a firearms registry. The 1996 Port Arthur massacre in Australia spurred the government to buy back 650,000 firearms within a year, and murders and suicides plummeted as a result. By contrast, it’s been nearly a decade since the 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and still nothing has been done on a federal level to address gun violence. Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images People gather at Sacred Heart Catholic Church to pray for the victims of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 25. “Other countries look at this problem and say, ‘People walking around in the community with handguns is just way too dangerous, so we’re going to broadly limit legal access to that and make exceptions on the margins for people who might have a good reason to have a gun,’” Swanson said. “Here we do just the opposite: We say that, because of the way that the Supreme Court interpreted the Second Amendment, everybody has the right to a gun for personal protection, and then we tried to make exceptions for really dangerous people, but we can’t figure out who they are.” The political state of gun control Despite the surge in mass shootings across the US, the politics of gun control has been the same for years. As vice president, Joe Biden led a push for universal background checks, a new assault weapons ban, and a prohibition on high-capacity gun clips that went nowhere. Now, his presidential administration faces even tougher odds for narrower policies. While the majority of Americans support more gun control restrictions, including universal background checks, a vocal Republican minority unequivocally opposes such laws — and is willing to put pressure on GOP lawmakers to do the same. Alongside the NRA, and a well-funded gun lobby, this contingent of voters sees gun control as a deciding issue, and one that could warrant a primary challenge for a lawmaker who votes for it. The last major bipartisan bill that Congress considered was a 2013 compromise worked out by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), introduced after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, that would have established universal background checks. It ultimately failed to pass the Senate filibuster in a 54-46 vote, with just four Republicans signing on and five Democrats opposed. Before the Manchin-Toomey compromise, the most significant gun control measure in recent history was an assault weapons ban that Congress passed in 1994, which sunsetted in 2004. Since then, lawmakers have struggled to get the votes to approve any other bills. The gun lobby has the advantage of enthusiasm. “​​Despite being outnumbered, Americans who oppose gun control are more likely to contact public officials about it and to base their votes on it,” Barnard College’s Matthew Lacombe explained in 2020. “As a result, many politicians believe that supporting gun regulation is more likely to lose them votes than to gain them votes.” Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images American flags are seen at half-staff surrounding the Washington Monument, in front of the US Capitol, on May 25. President Joe Biden ordered flags at the White House, federal buildings, and military posts to be flown at half-staff for the victims of the deadly shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The result is a dearth of Republican support for any form of gun control legislation, leaving bills to stall in the Senate, where 60 votes are needed to pass most measures because of the filibuster. Since Democrats currently have a 50-person majority in the upper chamber, that means they’d need at least 10 Republicans to sign onto any bill in order for it to pass. Despite some bipartisan interest in narrow reforms in the wake of the Uvalde mass shooting, getting that degree of GOP support is still unlikely. Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) also continue to oppose changing or eliminating the filibuster, which would allow Democrats to pass legislation with the simple majority they possess. “In the conversations I’ve had with colleagues, they are disturbed, upset, troubled, but not willing to change where they are,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) told reporters after the Uvalde mass shooting. All that leaves Congress in the same place it has been for a decade. For now, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) is leading an attempt to find a bipartisan compromise on legislation. In a tweet the day after the Uvalde mass shooting, Murphy said that he’d spend the next 10 days trying to hammer out an agreement that could get 10 Republican votes. If that effort fails as it has in the past, the Senate will then vote on two House-passed gun control bills to get Republicans on the record on the issue. “Hopefully we succeed and the Senate can vote on a bipartisan bill that saves lives,” Murphy said in his post. “But if we can’t find common ground, then we are going to take a vote on gun violence. The Senate will not ignore this crisis.” The plan is to work hard at a compromise for the next 10 days. Hopefully we succeed and the Senate can vote on a bipartisan bill that saves lives. But if we can’t find common ground, then we are going to take a vote on gun violence. The Senate will not ignore this crisis. — Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) May 25, 2022 It’s not yet clear what shape a bipartisan agreement would take. After the Uvalde mass shooting, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said she’d be open to discussing red flag laws, a policy that enables law enforcement to curb an individual’s access to a firearm if they are viewed as posing a danger to themselves or others. Toomey, meanwhile, said he believed universal background checks might be the most likely policy to pick up Republican support. In the case that there is no bipartisan deal, the Senate intends to vote on the Bipartisan Background Checks Act and the Enhanced Background Checks Act — two bills that seek to require more vetting of anyone who wants to obtain a gun. The Bipartisan Background Checks Act would require background checks for all gun sales and close loopholes that currently exist for gun shows and online sales. The Enhanced Background Checks Act, meanwhile, would address what’s known as the Charleston loophole, which enables an individual to buy a firearm without a completed background check if three days have elapsed. That bill would extend the window to 10 days, and directly addresses how the shooter who killed nine Black Americans in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015 was able to purchase a gun. Both measures advanced with a handful of Republican votes in the House, and are widely expected to fail in the Senate. Neither bill would be sufficient to fully address the causes of mass shootings, and certain studies suggest that universal background checks may have limited effects on gun violence. These policies would still be important first steps toward addressing gun access, however. Background checks are intended to prevent people with past felony and domestic violence convictions from being able to buy a gun, for example. And roughly 1 in 5 gun sales is currently made without a background check. “These are no magic wand panaceas, but a greater focus on the process by which people obtain guns in the first place would be worthy and helpful,” SUNY Cortland’s Spitzer said. Whether Congress actually takes action on the issue this year will become more apparent in the next two weeks. “It’s not impossible, but the chances are extremely remote,” said Spitzer. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images Gun control advocates hold a vigil outside of the NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia, on May 25. The Supreme Court has made it impossible to cure America’s gun violence epidemic In 2008, the Supreme Court effectively wrote NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre’s “good guy with a gun” theory into the Constitution. The Court’s 5-4 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) was the first Supreme Court decision in American history to hold that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm. But it also went much further than that. Heller held that one of the primary purposes of the Second Amendment is to protect the right of individuals — good guys with a gun, in LaPierre’s framework — to use firearms to stop bad guys with guns. As Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in Heller, an “inherent right of self-defense has been central to the Second Amendment right.” As a matter of textual interpretation, this holding makes no sense. The Second Amendment provides that “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” We don’t need to guess why the Second Amendment protects a right to firearms because it is right there in the Constitution. The Second Amendment’s purpose is to preserve “a well-regulated Militia,” not to allow individuals to use their weapons for personal self-defense. For many years, the Supreme Court took the first 13 words of the Second Amendment seriously. As the Court said in United States v. Miller (1939), the “obvious purpose” of the Second Amendment was to “render possible the effectiveness” of militias. And thus the amendment must be “interpreted and applied with that end in view.” Heller abandoned that approach. Heller also reached another important policy conclusion. Handguns, according to Scalia, are “overwhelmingly chosen” by gun owners who wish to carry a firearm for self-defense. For this reason, he wrote, handguns enjoy a kind of super-legal status. Lawmakers are not allowed to ban what Scalia described as “the most preferred firearm in the nation to ‘keep’ and use for protection of one’s home and family.” This declaration regarding handguns matters because this easily concealed weapon is responsible for far more deaths than any other weapon in the United States — and it isn’t close. In 2019, for example, a total of 13,927 people were murdered in the US, according to the FBI. Of these murder victims, at least 6,368 — just over 45 percent — were killed by handguns. Allison Dinner/AFP via Getty Images A woman holds a photo of Nevaeh Bravo, who was killed in the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, during a vigil for the victims in Uvalde, Texas, on May 25. It is likely, moreover, that the Supreme Court is going to make it even harder for federal and state lawmakers to combat gun violence very soon. Early this summer, the Supreme Court is expected to hand down its decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, a lawsuit challenging a 108-year-old New York law requiring anyone who wishes to carry a gun outside of their home to demonstrate “proper cause” before they can obtain a license permitting them to do so. When the Court heard oral arguments in this case last fall, a majority of the Court appeared eager to strike down the New York law. Justice Samuel Alito even suggested that guns should be allowed in the cramped, often-crowded cars of New York City’s subway system. “All these people with illegal guns, they’re on the subway,” Alito claimed. “They’re walking around the streets, but the ordinary hard-working, law-abiding people ... they can’t be armed?” Bruen will likely kick off a host of decisions striking down laws intended to combat gun violence. The Heller opinion contains a fair amount of language emphasizing that “the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” Among other things, Scalia wrote that “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill.” He also suggested that “laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms” are lawful, as are bans on “dangerous and unusual weapons” such as machine guns. But Justice John Paul Stevens revealed shortly before his death in 2019 that this language was added to the Heller opinion at the insistence of the relatively moderate conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy is no longer on the Court, and his replacement, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, reads the Second Amendment expansively. So does Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who replaced the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — Ginsburg dissented in Heller. It’s not yet clear how much of the language Kennedy pushed for in Heller is now in danger. But the Supreme Court of 2022 is far more conservative than the Court that decided Heller in 2008, and its newest members are especially eager to expand gun rights. The future of firearm regulation looks grim for anyone who believes that the government should help protect us from gun violence.

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