Our movie and TV screens are filled with brave, lone heroes. The upright sheriff in High Noon, shooting bandits and saving the town despite itself. New York police officer John McClane literally walking barefoot over glass to shoot robbers and save a skyscraper full of the terrorized. The Batman working with Commissioner Gordon to punch out domestic terrorists. There’s always some cop or cop-like figure ready to rush into a hail of bullets to save the innocent and punish the guilty.
These fantasy cops can be fun to watch on screen. But the failures of law enforcement in Uvalde, Texas, show just how detached they are from real life.
Last week, a horrific shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde left 19 students and two teachers dead. Police on the scene were useless — perhaps even worse than useless.
Law enforcement at Uvalde made numerous, escalating errors which led to the worst possible outcome. The shooter crashed his car at the school at 11:28 and fired at witnesses; a teacher called 911 two minutes later, according to a timeline constructed by the Texas Tribune.
After that, everything went wrong. A school district police officer confronted someone they thought was the shooter, but who actually turned out to be a teacher. Meanwhile, the actual shooter entered the school through a backdoor.
Officers made two efforts to enter via the same door over the next 10 minutes, but the shooter drove them away. Around 19 officers then stood outside for 50 minutes, waiting for more equipment and keys to the school to be delivered to them by a janitor.
Parents gathered outside, begging the police to enter and save their children. These civilians contemplated rushing in themselves. In response, parents say, US Marshals and police pepper-sprayed one parent, tasered another, and handcuffed a third. The handcuffed mother, Angeli Rose Gomez, says she managed to get the police to un-cuff her, then ran into the building and saved two of her children.
The US Marshals deny Gomez’s account. But it’s unclear why such parents would make something like this up. If their description is accurate, law enforcement didn’t just fail to take action; they actively aided the shooter by preventing parents and loved ones from helping their children. The good guys with guns didn’t stop the bad guy with a gun. They helped him do his worst.
It’s not hard to understand why police stood around outside, nor why they reacted with anger and force to people urging them to confront the shooter. The shooter had a semi-automatic weapon; he was very dangerous, and anyone confronting him was likely to die. As a Texas police lieutenant explained following the shooting, police didn’t want to engage him because “they could’ve been shot, they could’ve been killed.”
Republicans continue to insist that we embrace a Hollywood vision of gun violence by arming more law enforcement in hopes that some John McClane or Batman will foil the next gunman. Everything that actually happened in Uvalde shows how misguided that is.
Indeed, there’s something particularly strange about the way the GOP loves to caricature Hollywood as a bastion of out-of-touch elites and un-American values, while they embrace the very Hollywood idea that “good guys with guns” can single-handedly take out mass shooters and prevent gun deaths. Texas Senator Ted Cruz articulated the usual talking-point when he claimed, “We know from past experiences that the most effective tool for keeping kids safe is armed law enforcement on the campus.” Cruz is wrong. There’s little evidence that more law enforcement in school prevents school shootings. And the events at Uvalde certainly don’t buttress Cruz’s movie-plot narrative of police heroism.
In the movies, the good guys who have doubts about violent gun-battles — like Sgt. Al Powell in Die Hard — always face their fears and overcome them. In reality, though, that’s not necessarily what happens.
Uvalde police training emphasized that in an active shooter situation, police are supposed to confront the attacker. However, as law enforcement showed in this case, fear and concerns for one’s own safety can trump training when you actually face a gunman with a terrifying weapon.
A pro-gun base doesn’t want to hear that access to terrifying weapons is going to create terrifying situations, many so terrifying that human beings become useless in the face of them. And so GOP pundits and lawmakers like Cruz continue to try to evoke westerns, action movies, or superhero films. Reality just doesn’t factor in.
Sean Hannity suggested the government should offer tax breaks to retired police officers and soldiers to patrol schools — even though, at Uvalde, a school police officer completely failed to find the gunman, much less neutralize him. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton suggested arming teachers.
“Brave teacher fights off armed gunman” might make for a great pitch to a Los Angeles movie studio, but it’s a fantasy DC politicians shouldn’t be so taken by. Republicans lambast the entertainment industry for liberalism. But the fact remains that their gun policies borrow from and are legitimized by movie narratives which glorify law enforcement and suggest that the solution to violence is always more spectacular and heroic violence.
Whenever there’s a mass shooting, Republicans start writing exciting, pulse-pounding action movie scripts to foil the next mass shooter. The actual solutions to gun violence, though, are boring. Ban rapid-fire guns designed to kill large numbers of human beings. Institute background checks. Bring our gun laws more in line with those in the rest of the world, where horrific shootings like this aren’t commonplace.
John McClane isn’t going to save us. Maybe it’s time for the GOP and the Hollywood copaganda industrial complex to stop pretending that he will.