Wednesday briefing: Anguish at another US school shooting

In today’s newsletter: how the killing of 19 children and two adults at a school in Texas will reignite America’s gun control debate

Good morning. “As a country, we have been through this too many times,” the president said. “These children are our children. And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”

Those were Barack Obama’s words almost a decade ago, in response to the Sandy Hook massacre. Last night, Joe Biden said almost the same thing. He spoke at the White House after 21 people were shot dead at a Texas elementary school, 19 of them children. The toll is second only to Sandy Hook in the horrifying history of US school shootings. The attack was the 27th school shooting this year. And it comes 10 days after a racist gunman killed 13 people in Buffalo, New York.

“I had hoped when I became president I would not have to do this, again. Another massacre,” he said. “When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby? Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen?”

“It is time to turn this pain to the action,” Biden said – but the inertia of the last decade suggests how hard that will be. We’ll cover the latest on the atrocity at Robb elementary school, and the heartbroken response, after the rest of this morning’s headlines.

Five big stories

  1. Politics | Details emerged of what appeared to be a previously-unreported social gathering in Downing Street during lockdown. The news came as the BBC reported No 10 officials alleging that an event attended by Boris Johnson was so cramped that some attendees sat “on each other’s laps.”

  2. Cost of living | Rishi Sunak is preparing a package of measures to tackle the cost of living crisis which could be announced on Thursday. The energy regulator said yesterday that annual bills were likely to rise by more than 40% in October.

  3. Transport | A summer of rail strikes across Britain moved closer after the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union announced an “overwhelming” vote in favour of industrial action. 89% of railway workers voted in favour of a strike.

  4. Climate crisis | The UN secretary general has told new university graduates not to take up careers with “climate wreckers” – companies that drive the extraction of fossil fuels. António Guterres said in a speech: “You hold the cards.”

  5. Sudan | Police have opened fire on protesters demonstrating against the country’s military regime with 113 people injured in the last few days.

In depth: ‘Beyond time to take action’

People grieving after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
People grieving after the mass shooting at Robb elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Photograph: Brandon Bell/Getty Images


What do we know about what happened?

  • An 18-year-old opened fire at Robb elementary school in Uvalde, a mostly Latino community in south-west Texas, at about 11.30am on Tuesday. At least 19 children and two adults were killed. Three more people wounded in the attack were hospitalised in serious condition.

  • The children who attend Uvalde are in the second, third, and fourth grades, meaning the victims were likely between the ages of seven and ten.

  • The gunman died at the scene. He was apparently shot by responding police officers, Texas governor Greg Abbott said. There was no immediate indication of motive.

  • The attacker, identified as Salvador Ramos, shot his grandmother before going to the school with two military-style rifles he had bought on his birthday. He wore body armour and had hinted on social media of an upcoming attack.

  • Dozens of families gathered to await news of their children at a civic centre in the town, where officials took DNA samples to confirm whether their loved ones were among the victims. One adult victim was confirmed as fourth-grade teacher Eva Mireles.

  • More on what we know so far is here. The live blog has the latest.


What has the response been?

In a rawly emotional speech at the White House, Joe Biden described the victims as “Beautiful, innocent, second, third, fourth graders.” Biden, who has lost two children of his own, described the experience as “like having a piece of your soul ripped away”. He went on: “The hollowness in your chest. You feel like you’re being sucked into it and never going to be able to get out.”

He said that “gun manufacturers have spent two decades aggressively marketing assault weapons, which make them the most and largest profit”. He did not immediately set out proposals for new legislation on gun control but asked: “Where in God’s name is our backbone?”

Barack Obama said that he and his wife Michelle “grieve with the families in Uvalde, who are experiencing pain no one should have to bear”. And he added: “Nearly 10 years after Sandy Hook—and 10 days after Buffalo—our country is paralyzed, not by fear, but by a gun lobby and a political party that have shown no willingness to act in any way that might help prevent these tragedies.”

“My heart is broken today,” Hal Harrell, the school district superintendent, said. “We’re a small community and we’re going to need your prayers to get through this.” Erica Leslie Lafferty, whose mother was killed at Sandy Hook, said that it was “beyond time to take action”.

Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator who came to Congress representing the district that included Sandy Hook, teared up as he begged Senate colleagues to finally pass legislation to address gun violence. “This isn’t inevitable,” he said. “These kids weren’t unlucky. This only happens in this country and nowhere else.”


How have the gun lobby and its allies responded?

Republicans and those who oppose stricter gun control legislation suggested that stricter security measures in schools were the answer. Texas attorney general Ken Paxton said that “having teachers and other administrators who have gone through training and who are armed” would have saved lives.

Senator Ted Cruz said that “one of the most effective tools for keeping kids safe is armed law enforcement on the campus”. Lieutenant governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, said on the Fox News show Tucker Carlson Tonight: “We have to harden these targets so no one can get in, ever, except through one entrance.”

There was no immediate response from the National Rifle Association, or from Donald Trump, who is due to speak at the group’s annual meeting for the sixth time on Friday. Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, is also due to speak at the meeting.


What is the law in Texas – and will anything change?

Texas lawmakers have repeatedly fought to ensure the state has some of the least restrictive gun ownership policies in the country. The state enacted new pro-gun legislation last year allowing most residents of the state to openly carry guns without having to get permits or complete training. Abbott celebrated it as “the strongest second amendment legislation in Texas history”.

In Washington, the Democratic senate majority leader Chuck Schumer moved to force votes in the next few days on legislation to institute stricter criminal background checks on gun buyers, and enforce longer waiting times for anyone flagged as a potential risk.

The same measures were passed by the house of representatives in 2019 and 2021. But because of Republican opposition, they have not passed the senate and become law, the New York Times said. And the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, said he was “horrified and heartbroken” by the attack, but gave no indication that his party’s stance was likely to change.

What else we’ve been reading

  • Every few months someone else declares that, surely, it is the end of the road for Boris Johnson but it never quite pans out that way. Polly Toynbee takes a look at how the prime minister keeps clawing his way back. Nimo

  • As we wait for Sue Gray to deliver, Marina Hyde delivers her customary zingers to fill the time – taking in everything from the photos of Boris Johnson drinking at the “not a party” to the government’s mishandling of the retreat from Kabul. It’s as if this government exists solely to provide her with ammunition for her next column. Toby Moses, head of newsletters

  • Linda Kinstler’s grandfather disappeared in 1949 and her parents knew little about him besides a link to a notorious Nazi brigade. Kinstler decided it was time to find out the truth – her investigation takes her to surprising places. Nimo

  • As someone who derives much mental comfort from planning my life out, I enjoyed this piece from The Cut (£) on “the unreasonable pleasure of to-do lists” and their anxiety-beating qualities. Hannah J Davies, deputy editor, newsletters

  • I loved this profile of Heartstopper actor Yasmin Finney. Rachel Aroesti talks to the 18-year-old Mancunian about her life before the big screen, her upcoming role in Doctor Who and her big dreams. Nimo


Football | Boris Johnson’s government worked for months to encourage the Premier League to approve the controversial Saudi Arabia-backed takeover of Newcastle United, a Guardian investigation reveals.

Tennis | The former world number 5 and fan favourite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga ended his career after a four-set defeat in the French Open. A tearful Tsonga, 37, was cheered off by his home crowd.

Horse racing | Sawbuck, a 300-1 outsider, won the opening race at Punchestown on Tuesday, equalling the record for the longest-priced winner in British and Irish history.

The front pages

Guardian front 25-5

The Mail hails a forthcoming cost of living relief package from Rishi Sunak with the headline “Rescue deal for cost of living ‘in days’”, and the Express gushes: “It’s ready! Rishi’s rescue plan for millions”. The Guardian also leads with that story although a slightly different tone – “Sunak’s cost-of-living scramble as energy bills forecast to hit £2,800” – and the FT reports on how it might affect energy shares: “Energy groups tumble as Sunak races to finalise windfall tax plan”. The i says “Fuel bills to climb by £800 as price cap rises again”. The Telegraph conflates a cost of living angle with the ongoing Partygate shambles – “Windfall tax within days as PM seeks to throw off partygate” – and the Times has “Windfall tax will fund help for poor families”. The Mirror asks “Why did PM deny it? We knew parties broke the rules”.

Today in Focus

An outbreak of monkeypox in the UK is ‘significant and concerning’, but for now it poses a low risk to the public, says science editor Ian Sample.

Cartoon of the day | Steve Bell

Steve Bell’s cartoon.
Steve Bell’s cartoon. Illustration: Steve Bell/All Rights Reserved

The Upside

A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad

‘It gives them hope’. Jail Time Records artists outside prison
‘It gives them hope’. Jail Time Records artists outside prison Photograph: Dione Roach

The Cameroonian jail New Bell is overcrowded, the conditions are harsh and prisoners are treated poorly. So when a music studio was set up to help budding musicians create art, it gave them purpose and a home. Jail Time Records is a non-profit music label that was set up in 2018 - the collective have created the first permanent recording studio inside an African prison.

“It gives them hope that, one day, they can be one of those artists with a lot of success. It’s like a new page in their life,” says Steve Happi, a producer at Jail Time Records.

Sign up here for a weekly roundup of The Upside, sent to you every Sunday

Bored at work?

And finally, the Guardian’s crosswords to keep you entertained throughout the day – with plenty more on the Guardian’s Puzzles app for iOS and Android. Until tomorrow.


Archie Bland

The GuardianTramp

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