It was tragic coincidence that found Vice President Kamala Harris in Chicago on Tuesday, just a day after a gunman massacred seven people at a Fourth of July parade in one of that city’s suburbs, Highland Park. Harris had been slated to address the National Education Association’s annual meeting, but given what had happened on Monday only a few miles to the north, the subject of gun violence was impossible to avoid.
“We need to end this horror. We need to stop this violence. And we must protect our communities from the terror of gun violence,” Harris told the members of the powerful teachers’ union gathered for the convention.
There have been more than 300 mass shootings in the United States in 2022, with the racist massacre in Buffalo, N.Y., and the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, standing out as especially gruesome reminders of the toll gun massacres have taken on American society — including on its children.
“Here we are, and our nation is still mourning the loss of those 19 babies and their two teachers in Uvalde,” Harris said of the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history which has come in a year that has already experienced nearly 30 school shootings.
Since the killing of 26 people, including 20 children, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, Democrats have consistently called for stricter gun control, while the gun lobby and its allies in the Republican Party have argued for improved school security and for allowing teachers to bring weapons into the classroom.
On Tuesday, Harris rejected these proposals, which the GOP revived after the Uvalde shooting. “Teachers should not have to practice barricading a classroom,” she said in Chicago. “Teachers should not have to know how to treat a gunshot wound. And teachers should not be told that lives would have been saved if only you had a gun.”
After the mass murders in Buffalo and Uvalde, Congress passed its first gun control bill in 28 years, a collection of modest measures that has nevertheless been hailed as a sign that compromise on this most contentious of issues is possible.
Harris praised the bill but also called on Congress to renew the assault weapons ban, which was passed in 1994 and allowed to expire a decade later during the George W. Bush administration.
“An assault weapon is designed to kill a lot of human beings quickly,” Harris said, arguing that high-powered rifles went far beyond the allowances of the Second Amendment. There is, however, little indication that Congress is willing to take up such a measure, especially as midterm elections approach.
In what was an obvious reference to Republican governors like Ron DeSantis of Florida, Harris also denounced “extremist so-called leaders” who have challenged progressives on how race and sexuality are taught in the classroom.
Yet the vice president also urged educators to remain strong in the face of so many challenges.
“Do not despair. Do not be overwhelmed,” Harris said. “Do not throw up our hands when it is a time to roll up our sleeves."