Juggling Act: If lawmakers don't act on gun laws now, then when?

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

On the same day Alexandria Aniyah Rubio received awards for being on the honor roll and a good citizen at her Texas elementary school, her parents told her they loved her and they'd pick her at the end of the day. Those were the last words they'd say to her.

"We had no idea this was goodbye," wrote Kimberly Mata-Rubio, Alexandria's mom, Wednesday on Facebook along with a photo of Alexandria holding up her awards.

Alexandria was one of 19 children shot to death Tuesday in their classroom at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, murdered by an 18-year-old who barricaded himself in their classroom. 

Kimberly Mata-Rubio, left, described her daughter, Alexandria Aniyah Rubio, as "beautiful" and "smart." She was one of 19 students gunned down at her elementary school Tuesday -- the same day she got an award for being on the honor roll and being a good citizen.

It's the latest senseless school shooting in a country where senseless shootings have become the horrifying norm.

The question now is where do we go from here? Will lawmakers finally do more to restrict access to guns to those who shouldn't have them, boost background checks and require safe storage?

Families who should've been preparing for summer vacation are instead planning funerals, grieving an unbearable loss. Schools across the nation, including many in Michigan, meanwhile, boosted law enforcement this week in the shooting's aftermath.

But it's not enough. Nowhere near enough. 

Nowhere is safe from mass shootings in the United States. Not churches, grocery stores, synagogues, WalMart, movie theaters, and certainly not schools. And no amount of "thoughts and prayers" is doing anything to truly keep us safe.

If the time isn't right now to take meaningful action, then when?

Unfortunately, we've seen this before. We've seen it in our own backyard. Too many times to fathom or comprehend.

Kladys Castellan prays during a vigil for the victims of a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.

A list circulating on social media details every school shooting in the last 30 years and it just keeps growing: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and Michigan's own Oxford High School. And now Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

On the same day the agonizing news spread about the innocent children and teachers dead in Texas, Mark Barden, whose son, Daniel, was one of 20 students murdered in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, circulated a message on Facebook. He asked people to sign a petition demanding that Congress pass legislation to limit the size of gun magazines.

In four minutes, Barden noted, shooter Adam Lanza fired 154 bullets, killing Daniel, 19 other children and six educators at Sandy Hook. Four minutes.

Most of the students who died at Sandy Hook were only 6 or 7 years old. And yet, lawmakers failed to pass any meaningful legislation to limit the size of gun magazines in the aftermath of Sandy Hook.

If not now, when?

Michigan lawmakers, meanwhile, keep dragging their feet on legislation that would require guns to be safely stored and hold adults accountable if those guns then end up in the wrong hands.

Senate Democrats on Wednesday used a procedural move to bring a package of bills related to firearm storage before the full Senate but Senate Republicans moved the package back to committee.

A Washington Post analysis found that safe storage laws make a difference, especially since more than half of United States' school shootings since 1999 might have been prevented if the children who killed their classmates didn't have access to firearms. 

But 20 states don't have safe storage laws, including Michigan. Four teens were killed at Oxford High School —Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; Hana St. Juliana, 14; and Justin Shilling, 17 — and yet we can't take the simple measure of requiring guns to be stored safely?

If not now, when? 

Instead, we've turned to active shooter drills to keep our schools and children safe. We teach kids how to run, hide, barricade themselves and lock doors. My son, who has had several drills at his middle school since the Oxford shooting, tells me he worries all the time about a shooter coming into his school and what he'd do.

My job is to reassure him and make him feel safe. And I'm failing. We're all failing. 

The National Rifle Association, meanwhile, will hold its annual convention this weekend 4 ½  hours east of Ulvade in Houston. Attendees, ironically, won't be permitted to carry firearms during the convention, according to USA Today.

Why does the NRA have such power? Like anything else, it comes down to money. A CNN analysis in 2018 found that more than half of congressional incumbents at that time had gotten money and organizational help from the NRA.

But when did the Second Amendment — and I'm not suggesting we take away all guns but instead carefully regulate them — trump every other right?

No one wants to see another school, or any other location, bloodied by gun violence. But simply offering "thoughts and prayers" is offensive at this point.

If not now, when? 

mfeighan@detroitnews.com