Crisis provokes escalation.
Escalation can mean more people engaging in action, taking on an approach that is new for them.
It can mean some people taking on more aggressive, disruptive, or risky actions.
The tragic school shooting at the Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, following closely on other mass shootings—at a grocery in Buffalo, New York, and a church in Orange County, California, reminded Americans that we’re living through a gun crisis.
And Americans are escalating everywhere.
Across the nation, students staged walk-outs from school to call for gun safety legislation. (Yes, there were even more walk-outs across the nation’s schools following the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School; but this one came quicker, with a more prepared and mobilized infrastructure.)
Beto O’Rourke, candidate for governor in Texas, disrupted current Governor Greg
g Abbott’s press conference on the Uvalde shooting, blaming Abbott and his allies on stage for making it easier for anyone to get and carry guns in Texas. When forced to leave, O’Rourke took his own focused rant outside, effusively hijacking Abbott’s press conference.
O’Rourke again spoke to gun safety protesters outside the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Houston, a larger and more urgent demonstration than the convention usually draws. Several entertainers and politicians pulled canceled their planned appearances inside the convention center, citing timing—or even newly discovered differences on policy.
Politics? Markets? Conscience? It really doesn’t matter.
Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors hijacked his own press conference about the NBA playoffs to talk about guns, calling out the 50 (Republican) senators who refused to vote on two very modest safety measures passed by the House of Representatives.
Kerr, whose father was shot and killed in his university office in Lebanon, has spoken about guns and politics before. And O’Rourke has campaigned for office on gun safety before. But there was a new intensity and urgency for both.
But there was also more.
The Miami Heat called for a moment of silence before their playoff game, ending with a loudspeaker announcement: “The Heat urges you to contact your state senators by calling 202-224-3121 to leave a message demanding their support for common-sense gun laws.”
(That number, by the way, is a switchboard at the Capitol, and will get you to a US senator instead—like Florida Republican Marco Rubio, a staunch defender of easy access to firearms who is up for reelection in the fall.)
NBA athletes—and some coaches—have taken strong political stances in the past, but the strong endorsement by a franchise is more unusual.*
Even more unusual was a statement by the New York Yankees on Twitter that the team would use its social media to Tweet gun facts rather than game updates, angering more than a few fans.
All of this marks another period of intensified debate on guns in America. It’s happened before, generally in the wake of a tragic shooting: assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968; the shooting of President Ronald Reagan in 1981; school shootings at Columbine (1999), Sandy Hook (2012), and Parkland (2018)—a very partial list. But progress takes a very long time, and attention usually shifts before advocates win even very modest reforms.
Maybe this time is different. The key issue is whether gun safety advocates–American citizens, can extend this period of escalation and attention.
*Note: The gun issue isn’t new in the US or in professional basketball. In 1997, Abe Pollin, owner of the Washington team, changed its name to “Wizards” from “Bullets,” a reaction against glorifying gun violence.