Coming on the heels of a mass shooting event in Buffalo, New York, the massacre of schoolchildren in Uvalde, Texas just ten days later appeared to be yet another intolerable episode of mass gun violence in the United States. This specific sort of violence is, primarily, an American problem, and it is being addressed at a national level. Right now, a legislative framework prompted by this attack is in the crafting stages in the U.S. Senate. But this was not just another mass shooting. The more we learn about what happened in Uvalde, the less this event seems to lend itself to legislative remedies.
On Monday, the details of what occurred as this horrific episode unfolded changed yet again. Reportedly, Uvalde police officers and Texas state troopers, who were armed with rifles and ballistic shields, did enter the school building while the attack was ongoing. Radio transcripts and surveillance footage viewed by the Texas Tribune revealed that the responding officers lingered outside the one classroom in which the shooter was executing children, but they stayed there for nearly one hour before entering the room.
Police were not without the means to gain entry to that classroom. A forcible entry tool designed to breach locked doors was on the scene within minutes of law enforcement’s response, but no one brought the tool into the school for almost an hour. Instead, officers waited for someone to bring keys that would unlock the classroom door. “It took about six minutes for a set of keys to arrive, and the chief began testing them on a different classroom door,” the Tribune reported. Over the course of an agonizing, bloody hour, radio traffic indicates that responding officers loitered and argued over the need to have a “supervisor approve” of breaching the classroom in question. Finally, 77 minutes after the shooting started, a Border Patrol tactical team initiated forced entry and neutralized the gunman.
“The classroom door, it turned out, could not be locked from the inside, yet there is no indication officers tried to open the door while the gunman was inside,” the Associated Press reported on Tuesday after Texas’s Department of Public Safety chief testified to the “abject failure” of law enforcement. “I have great reasons to believe it was never secured,” Col. Steve McCraw said. “How about trying the door and seeing if it’s locked?” He added that “because terrible decisions” were made by law enforcement, it’s clear “not enough training was done in this situation.”
This isn’t the first time that local law enforcement’s version of events has evolved. DPS initially claimed that the shooter “was engaged by law enforcement” outside the school before he “unfortunately” gained entry to the building. Later, we learned that was not the case. Indeed, school district police chief Pete Arredondo stopped treating the active shooter scenario as an “active shooter scenario” after determining that the gunman barricaded himself inside a classroom, judging that there was “no risk to other children.” McCraw initially blamed school staff for propping open a door to the building with a rock, only to later “verify” that the door in question was closed.
“There has been a great deal of false and misleading information in the aftermath of this tragedy,” Texas’ largest police union said in a statement in May. “Some of the information came from the very highest levels of government and law enforcement.”
This wasn’t just another mass shooting, as awful as that would be. It was another mass shooting and a breathtaking display of negligence by police, which has been subsequently compounded by law enforcement’s dissimulation. At present, a bipartisan framework—championed by the Senior U.S. Senator from Texas and billed as a national “post-Uvalde” reckoning—is in the works. The tentative deal includes stricter background checks, incentives for states to pass “red flag” laws, and funds for additional security measures for school and mental-health resources. But nothing in that framework would address the conditions that ensured this attack was so deadly. Indeed, how could it?
Could Congress mandate additional training that would somehow have convinced the commanding officer on this scene to prioritize the lives of the civilians and children in that school over his officers? Of course. Is there some dollar figure we could attach to the training of officers so that they would have done their duties in this case, as police do on a daily basis and without hesitation across the country? No. The Uvalde massacre is a national tragedy, and the police’s response is a national scandal. But this was a true black swan event. Almost every moving part broke down, collectively contributing to a disaster of unforeseeable proportions.
America can make schools into harder targets. We can provide mental-health care and foster the development of a culture of responsibility for the people in our lives who are showing signs of dangerous instability. We can make it more difficult to purchase firearms, ammunition, and tactical gear. But this atrocity achieved its scope because of human error, frailty, and bad judgment. There’s no legislative solution to that.