Our Best Coverage of a Week of Tragedy

Hello and happy Memorial Day weekend. I was all set to begin this newsletter by telling you much I dreaded writing this newsletter, given the news of the week. But that’s kind of how Jonah started his G-File on Friday.

It’s hard to find words in the wake of tragedies like the Uvalde school shooting on Tuesday. Not only were innocent children killed, but their last moments were spent in terror. Their parents spent hours in anguish before learning that the unimaginable had happened. Hundreds of children experienced a trauma from which it will take months or even years to recover. What finally broke me was the reports that parents had to provide DNA samples to help determine the identity of the victims.  

Mass shootings, and school shootings especially, leave us heartbroken—and angry. But I have a feeling that this particular tragedy is going to bring out even more anger than usual. And not just because it’s the second mass shooting in two weeks, coming on the heels of a gunman killing 10 people in a predominantly black neighborhood in Buffalo. 

No, the anger is emerging because of what we’re learning about the police response. In the early hours after the shooting, there were reports that police had engaged the gunman but that he was still able to make his way into the building (those early reports also indicated he was wearing body armor). That would be frustrating in and of itself, but the truth is much grimmer. 

On Wednesday, one day after the shooting, Vice published a story with the headline, “The Police Timeline of the Texas School Shooting Has a Lot of Holes.” While the Texas Department of Public Safety was telling the public that a school resource officer and police had engaged with the gunman, parents had already posted videos on social media showing the police standing outside, ignoring their pleas to enter the school and save their children. The Wall Street Journal and New York Times followed up with their own similar reports on Thursday. 

It’s one thing for there to be confusion in the wake of a major tragedy. We might not know the number of wounded and dead right away, as first responders are tasked with taking victims to different hospitals. Law enforcement officials and investigators need time to talk to the officers on the scene, some of whom might not have seen everything. But when official statements contradict video that was posted as the event was going on and is widely available to the public, it feels less like the fog of war and more like disinformation. 

We simply cannot afford disinformation from public officials. The same internet that allowed parents in Uvalde to post video from the scene also allows too many people to spread vicious false rumors. We published two fact checks this week that debunked disgusting claims—one spread by a sitting member of Congress, Rep. Paul Gosar,  that the shooter was a “transsexual leftist illegal alien” and one that claimed CNN was using “crisis actors” and that the shooting was a “false flag operation.” There will certainly be more in the coming weeks.

Our fact checkers here at The Dispatch—and at other outlets—can work quickly to respond to misinformation spread by private actors with overactive imaginations and obvious agendas. It can be much harder to knock down statements by public officials whose very job it is to convey accurate information. That usually can’t be done with a Google search. 

Even worse, lies from public officials only serve to further weaken our already low trust in government, which contributes to the conspiracy theories we are seeing more of. It’s a vicious cycle. We deserve—and should expect—better.

Thank you for reading. 

Pass and Enforce Red Flag Laws. Now.

David cast aside his plans to write about the Georgia primary Tuesday after we learned of the horrific shooting in Uvalde. While mass shootings are inevitably followed by laments that “we won’t do anything” to combat the devastation, he offers up one solution that can work: red flag laws. He draws a smart (and often ignored) distinction between the different kinds of gun deaths in this country: those caused by common crime, suicides, and mass killings. Most of our gun laws, he writes, are targeted at common crime. Red flag laws, which allow qualified people (parents, law enforcement, teachers, etc.) to apply for court orders prohibiting at-risk individuals from buying or possessing firearms, are a better solution. He writes:  “Our constitutional structure permits emergency and temporary deprivations of even core liberty interests upon sufficient showing of need, with sufficient due process.”

After Uvalde, What Now?

Continuing in the vein of pragmatic advice rather than throwing up our hands, Declan interviewed Adam Lankford, a criminology professor who has studied mass shootings for years. The two talked about contagion and copycat crimes and how it helps to keep shooters’ names out of media reports, about how mental health plays a complicated role, and … firearms. Lankford discussed red flag laws and how to keep guns out of the hands of potential killers. “The United States has a big suicide problem. It has a mass shooting problem that in terms of frequency is far rarer than its suicide problem. But more counseling, better mental health treatment, behavioral threat assessment teams—these are things that solve a myriad of problems ranging from suicide to mass shootings to other forms of violence and harm.” 

Georgia Republicans Stick With Kemp by a Wide Margin

Donald Trump’s endorsements have been a major storyline in the GOP primaries this spring. J.D. Vance won the Senate nomination in Ohio, Doug Mastriano is the GOP gubernatorial nominee in Pennsylvania, and Ted Budd will run to replace retiring Sen. Richard Burr in North Carolina. Georgia, however, is a different story. On Tuesday, incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp beat Trump-endorsed former Sen. David Perdue by more than 50 percentage points, and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger also won his primary outright (avoiding a runoff) despite facing a Trump-endorsed challenger. What happened? Michael Reneau and Andrew reported from Atlanta. “Trump and Perdue’s theory of the race had been that [belief that the 2020 election was stolen] was a common sentiment among Republican voters—that Kemp had irredeemably damaged himself in the eyes of the MAGA base in 2020 and therefore would not be up to the challenge of facing Abrams. But that message never really took hold, even among most of Perdue’s own supporters. Last month, one man at a Perdue rally told The Dispatch that Kemp was ‘a traitor to the state of Georgia and a traitor to this country,’ but that he wouldn’t hesitate to back him in the general election.” 

Pinpointing What Went Wrong in the Collapse of Afghanistan

When Kabul fell while the U.S. was in the midst of its withdrawal from Afghanistan, Joe Biden blamed the ineptitude of the Afghan military. And to address concerns that our departure would enable al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations to regroup, he tried to assure Americans that we would maintain an “over the horizon” capability to address the threat from afar. Those arguments failed to resonate at the time, and Charlotte reported this week that two separate reports “call both of Biden’s rationalizations into question.” A Defense Department report reveals that we have not conducted any strikes against terrorist targets in Afghanistan since our withdrawal and, perhaps more damning, the “special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR) … determined that the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan had been the ‘single most important factor’ in the Afghan forces’ collapse.” (David explained this very well at the time). However, the SIGAR report doesn’t place all the blame with Biden. Charlotte also notes that the problems began with the deal that the Trump administration negotiated with the Taliban.

And now for the best of the rest: 

  • Paul Matzko calls the new right’s turn against corporate speech rights dangerous—and hypocritical. Just three years after signing a law to defend Chick-fil-a’s freedom of speech, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is trying to crack down on the rights of social media companies.

  • In coming out against the $40 billion aid package for Ukraine, Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts called for debate on the issue. In the latest edition of The Current, Klon Kitchen responds.

  • Will two mass shootings just weeks apart provide a nudge for Congress to make a real bipartisan effort at gun control legislation? Audrey and Harvest report on negotiations in Uphill (🔐)

  • In The Sweep (🔐), Sarah details how the GOP’s contested primaries are a sign of the party’s realignment, and suggests that they will push the party rightward toward the base.

  • Iran is causing headaches for Jordan. For all their differences, Israel and Saudi Arabia both view Iran as a threat and want security for their common neighbor. Is this an opportunity for improved relations? And how can the Biden administration help? Jonathan Schanzer explains.

  • On the pods: On The Remnant, Jonah welcomes Stephen Gutowksi, founder of The Reload and perhaps the smartest journalist out there covering firearms and mass shootings. Uvalde is also the topic of the day on Advisory Opinions, where David and Sarah discuss the shooting, red flag laws, and a new Second Amendment case. On The Dispatch Podcast, the gang talks about the shooting but also makes time to check in on the war in Ukraine and Russia’s Black Sea blockade. Last but not least, on Good Faith David and his co-host Curtis Chang are joined by David’s wife, Nancy, to discuss her latest reporting on the sex abuse scandal and coverup at Kanakuk Kamps in Missouri.

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