“Funny” and “never serious” with a smile that “would cheer anyone up”.
This is how Felicha Martinez describes her 10-year-old son Xavier Lopez, shot and killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on May 24.
Xavier was among 19 children, aged between 9 and 11, who were slain. Two teachers, Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles were also killed.
It was the biggest mass killing in Texas in a decade, but Xavier, Irma, and Eva were just three of the 321 people shot and killed in the US each day. The 19 children are among 7,957 juveniles who die each year from gun violence.
Eight days after Uvalde, a shooter targeted a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma killing Dr. Preston Phillips, Dr. Stephanie Husen, Amanda Dawn Glenn, and William Love. Ten days after that, Mark Alan Frey, Edward Minnick Jr., and Joshua Robert Wallace were killed when a work colleague opened fire at Columbia Machine in Maryland.
And on July 4, seven people were killed and 49 wounded in Highland Park, Illinois — killed by a sniper simply because they had chosen to watch the Chicago suburb’s parade.
After each mass shooting, the same question was asked: why has this happened again? Each time, opponents of any measures over guns insisted that weapons were not the issue, declaring that any attention should be on mental health, school and workplace security, and even video games.
To break that cycle, fundamentals must be established. Easy access to weapons that kill powerfully and quickly is a large part of the problem. At the same time, gun control should be accompanied by action over education and mental health.
To understand why, we must not only remember the victims but consider the perpetrators.
Uvalde’s YUBO Killer
“Argumentative,” “provocative”, and “threatening”.
This is how former classmates and fellow online gamers describe 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, the gunman who killed Xavier Lopez and 20 others in the Uvalde primary school.
Described as “anti-social” and “withdrawn” by work colleagues, Ramos spent much of
his spare time immersed in video games and on social media sites including the interactive platform YUBO. In private messages, some sent to strangers, he wrote of people “deserving rape”. Violent content earned him the nickname the “YUBO shooter”.
Victims of Ramos’s online abuse came forward but no effective measures were taken. He was only given a temporary ban, and his profile was still on YUBO four days after the mass killing.
Two days after his 18th birthday, Ramos was able to purchase two semi-automatic weapons. He boasted online about the acquisition, saying he would use the weapons “just for fun”.
His first victim was his grandmother, shot in the forehead at her home. Ramos — having posted that he intended to shoot up a school — stole her car, crashed it outside Robb Elementary, and entered the building with the semi-automatic weapons.
Having failed to identify and contain the threat, authorities failed once more with deadly consequences. Armed Texas police officers waited for 78 minutes before engaging Ramos.
Perhaps the greatest immediate failure was the inability to recognise Ramos as a potential perpetrator. His behavior, dismissed by some as empty threats, did not prompt mental health assistance. Even had he had been directed toward those services,
the cost could be a deterrent: a typical 30-day in-house rehabilitation program may cost from $10,000 to $15,000, and a chronic sufferer of diagnosed depression may spend about $11,000 per year on treatment without insurance.
So, despite multiple reports lodged against him and evidence accumulated online, the 18-year-old was still able to buy two semi-automatic weapons with ease.
As of September 2021 in Texas, a person over 21 is no longer required to have a permit to purchase a handgun, which can be carried in public. No background checks are required for any individual who purchases a gun for private sale. And anyone over 18 can purchase any type of firearm, allowing Ramos to purchase two AR-15 semi-automatic rifles just days after his 18th birthday.
There was no intervention when there were early-warning signs about Ramos. There was no limit on his ability to obtain weapons. That was the combination for the mass killing at Robb Elementary School.
Mass shootings within the US are not the outcome of a single factor but are from an amalgamation of failures within health, legal, and social spheres — accentuated by lack of gun control.
Without recognition and an addressing of all of these, there will be more perpetrators like Salvador Ramos — and many, many more victims like Xavier Lopez.