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Sensemaker: Uvalde

Sensemaker: Uvalde

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Russian forces took control of three towns in Donetsk and intensified their bombardment of the easternmost Ukrainian-held cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. 
  • North Korea test-fired three ballistic missiles in an apparent response to Biden’s promise of extra US security assistance to Seoul.
  • Male Afghan newsreaders wore masks in solidarity with female colleagues forced to cover their faces on air.


The third American mass shooting in ten days and the worst school shooting in a decade has left 19 children and two teachers dead, and a nation utterly divided on gun violence and gun control.

The shooting happened at 11.30 am yesterday at Robb Elementary School in mainly Hispanic Uvalde, Texas, 85 miles east of San Antonio. The gunman, 18-year old Salvador Ramos, was killed by law enforcement at the scene.

President Biden, scores of Democrats and – perhaps most powerfully – the head coach of the Golden State Warriors basketball team begged Republicans in Congress to pass laws limiting Americans’ access to lethal weapons, starting with HR-8, a bill to close background check loopholes that has been before the Senate since last year. 

This could be a moment when key senators examine their consciences and change the way they vote, but if the past is any guide it won’t be.

  • We’ve been here before. Ten years ago, after the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting that killed 20 children in Connecticut, President Obama appealed for “meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this”. There have been 900 more school shootings in the US in the ensuing decade, and guns now kill more children and young Americans than car crashes.
  • Gun-makers are on a tear. The number of guns made annually in the US has tripled since 2000, and production of pistols and semi-automatic handguns in particular nearly doubled during the pandemic, to 5.5 million a year. There are now more than 400 million guns in circulation in America.
  • Gun control is stalled. The last federal gun control measure, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, expired in 2004 and hasn’t been renewed. Since then sales of AR-15 assault rifles and cheaper replicas like the one used to kill ten Black people in Buffalo earlier this month, have steadily increased. All 50 states now have laws allowing concealed carrying of guns, and 31 allow so-called open carry, cowboy style.
  • Americans are torn. Steve Kerr, the Warriors’ coach, whose father was killed by gunmen in Beirut, said in a furious attack on Senators who refuse to vote on HR-8 that 90 per cent of Americans want universal background checks for gun-buyers. But Gallup’s rolling poll shows support for stricter gun laws generally at only 52 per cent, down from 78 in 1991 and 67 in 2018. 

That ought to be enough to force new gun laws onto the books. But opponents’ voices are amplified beyond measure by gun lobbyists and a Republican primary election process in which NRA endorsements and an ideological commitment to 2nd Amendment gun rights are usually non-negotiable.  

Point. Before a match in Dallas yesterday at which he refused to talk about basketball, Kerr said the US was being held hostage by 50 senators in Washington. “They won’t vote on HR-8 because they want to hold onto their own power,” he said. “It’s pathetic. I’ve had enough.”

Biden addressed the nation to say he was “sick and tired” of mass shootings. “And don’t tell me we can’t have an impact on this carnage.” He said gun-makers pushed assault rifles because they yielded the most profit, not because they were needed for hunting. “Deer aren’t running through forests with kevlar vests on, for god’s sake.”

Counterpoint. Laura Ingraham, the Fox News host, said Biden was shaming the nation by playing politics with gun violence when his personal ratings were tanking. 

There was no mention of Uvalde this morning on the NRA website, which is promoting an appearance by Donald Trump at its 150th annual conference in Houston this weekend. Nor will guns be allowed at the conference. Trump is an ex-president, so the Secret Service has taken over the venue and it doesn’t allow guns.  


Snap swoon
The giant balloon marked “social media share price bonanza” is deflating everywhere you look. First it was Facebook, admitting losing active users on a large scale for the first time in February. Now Snap, parent company of Snapchat, says it won’t meet earnings targets. Investors pulled out so fast yesterday that the company lost more than a third of its value. Its CEO blamed the usual suspects – inflation, war, shrinking ad budgets, supply chain bottlenecks – but in addition, Snap has had to cope with a sneaky tweak by Apple to its App Store privacy rules, which since last October have required apps to get explicit permission from users to target them with algorithmically chosen ads. Snap is now trading at around $16 a share. Meta and Alphabet slid yesterday and today’s Tech States Sensemaker explains why Amazon could be in trouble too.


Bulgarian UFO
A giant circular brutalist masterpiece on top of a Bulgarian mountain could be saved for posterity if only the money can be found in a poor country for its partial restoration. The Buzludzha monument is a concrete shrine to Bulgarian communism, left to the depredations of thieves and severe weather ever since the demise of the Warsaw Pact. Its mosaics are falling apart. The copper from its ceiling has all gone, and wind and snow blow through its cavernous spaces every winter. But fans of its uncompromising style have established a foundation to restore it, and it’s been recognised as one of the seven most endangered cultural sights in Europe. Hats off to the NYT and the endlessly curious Andrew Higgins for finding the bandwidth in a time of unrelenting contemporary folly to check out a folly of the past. 


Uyghur files
A leaked cache of thousands of police files and pictures of Uyghur Muslims held in camps in Xinjiang provides valuable new evidence of widespread human rights abuses that Beijing continues to deny. Authenticated by family members and experts, the files appear to confirm what reporters on the ground and satellite images from orbit have shown – that more than a million Uyghurs are or have been incarcerated and forcibly “re-educated” on Xi Jinping’s orders. They also appear to show police have operated a shoot-to-kill policy in the camps for anyone trying to escape, and that prisoners’ faces are being uploaded to a giant database to enable facial recognition software to recognise them wherever they go in Xinjiang on their release. 

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Sue Gray day
Sue Gray’s final report on Partygate has, as of this writing, been put on Boris Johnson’s desk. If it’s anything close to the interim report, his apology will be deep-throated in Parliament later today. What’s less clear is if there will be any civil service or ministerial resignations. In the last 24 hours, the Mirror and BBC have published photos, WhatsApp messages and accounts that indicate a culture of all-night parties across Westminster. Not everyone has felt the party spirit. Politico reports on a survey of parliamentary staff by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development revealing a “damaging” atmosphere of confrontation and abuse. A third of staff said working in parliament had a negative impact on their mental health. Others reported being humiliated, verbally abused and sexually harassed. Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, who supported the survey, said in response that he wants parliament to be “a good place to work”, free of “discrimination, bullying and harassment”. The stench from Westminster is particularly strong today; the government is expected to try to clear it tomorrow with a multi-billion cost of living package. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Pricing pollution
How much cash can be made from carbon dioxide? A report released by the World Bank yesterday showed that carbon pricing systems around the world, which charge companies for CO2 emissions, earned $84 billion last year. The idea is that such schemes encourage companies to swap high carbon products for low carbon alternatives. And they are growing in number. There are now 36 carbon taxes and 32 Emissions Trading Systems worldwide (four more than last year), covering 23 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what we’ve missed. News tips and story ideas are welcome. Email them to sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Giles Whittell

With additional reporting by Phoebe Davis.

Photographs Getty Images

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