In the past week, America has pondered two news stories involving schools, one tragic, the other cynical. Last Monday, an attacker shot and killed three children and three adults in a Tennessee grade school, the latest in an almost-weekly parade of carnage in America’s classrooms. Days earlier, House Republicans, who have managed for decades to stymie meaningful national firearms restrictions, passed a “Parents Bill of Rights” that seeks to stick the federal government’s nose into local school policies on behalf of right-wing activists who view the nation’s overworked, underpaid teachers as the enemy. In a functioning political system, a major party would pay at the polls for displaying such warped priorities.
It’s a sad fact of modern American life that school shootings like the one at the Covenant Christian school in Nashville have become so common that they tend to run together in the public’s mind. To the extent that this one stands out, it will be for the unusual fact that the 28-year-old shooter was transgender female — a factor that anti-trans bigots will no doubt focus upon, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of mass shooters are cisgender white males.
Initial reports indicate the shooter, who was ultimately killed by police, bought the two assault-style rifles and a handgun legally. Tennessee has exceedingly loose gun laws, including allowing any adult to carry in public without a permit. It wasn’t always this way. Missouri and most other red states generally had reasonable gun restrictions on the books until about two decades ago, when populist conservative politicians began zealously eliminating them. It’s no coincidence that the nation’s gun death rate has skyrocketed in that time, especially in red states with loose laws.
President Joe Biden responded to the shooting by repeating his call for a new assault-weapons ban. But Republican politicians from Tennessee and other states are, as usual, offering thoughts and prayers and nothing else.
And anyway, they’re terribly busy tossing aside their own longstanding principles of smaller government and local control of education. On Friday, the Republican-controlled House passed The Parents Bill of Rights, which, like state-level versions of these bills in Missouri and elsewhere, seeks to micromanage classroom curriculum, reading lists and other issues properly handled by elected school boards. It’s all presented under the ideologically loaded premise that professional educators are engaged in indoctrination rather than education.
The measure is dead on arrival in the Democrat-controlled Senate, but the point is to signal to the right-wing base that House Republicans share their contempt for teachers. Teachers who, with their students, are frequently in the line of fire from shooters the GOP refuses to disarm. As long as America lets Republicans get away with spinning culture-war piffle as the bodies pile up, next week’s news will be largely the same.