Today's D Brief: 21 dead in Texas school shooting; Encirclement in E. Ukraine; Russian default looming; N. Korea's 17th test; And a bit more.
America has suffered more than 210 mass shootings this year, and there have only been 144 days in the year so far. The latest, America’s 213th documented mass shooting, occurred just before noon Tuesday about 85 miles west of San Antonio, when an 18-year-old male—reportedly wearing body armor without plates—drove to Robb Elementary School with two assault rifles and killed 19 children and two teachers in a single classroom massacre.
According to Texas officials, the shooter “barricaded himself by locking the door and just started shooting children and teachers that were inside that classroom,” Lt. Christopher Olivarez told NBC News on Wednesday. “It just shows you the complete evil of the shooter.” He also shot and injured two police officers before a Border Patrol agent rushed into the school without backup, and eventually shot and killed the attacker.
The gunman lived nearby in Uvalde, Texas, and was frequently bullied because of a stutter and a lisp, according to the Washington Post. He’d also lived in what seemed to be a tense single-parent home. By the end of his senior year, he’d fallen behind in his grades and wasn’t on track to graduate with his classmates. The school year would have ended this Thursday. The superintendent ended it early shortly after Tuesday’s shooting.
The gunman purchased the assault rifles within a week of turning 18, Texas officials said Tuesday, and added details Wednesday. He’d just turned 18 this month. And in retrospect, he appears to have left a trail of indicators on social media, according to the Associated Press, including images of the two rifles posted to Instagram just four days ago, and a warning that “kids should watch out,” state Sen. Roland Gutierrez said.
“As a nation, we have to ask, when in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” President Joe Biden said in an evening address to the nation. “I am sick and tired of it. We have to act. And don’t tell me we can’t have an impact on this carnage. I spent my career as a senator and as Vice President working to pass common-sense gun laws,” he said from the Roosevelt Room. “We can’t and won’t prevent every tragedy. But we know they work and have a positive impact.”
- “When we passed the assault weapons ban, mass shootings went down. When the law expired, mass shootings tripled,” Biden said.
Said Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe: “I think [passing gun control legislation] would be very difficult. You're talking about millions of people out there, and there have got to be some screwballs that are just totally unpredictable. And there's no way to identify who they are.”
Said Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: “Inevitably when there's a murderer of this kind, you see politicians try to politicize it, you see Democrats and a lot of folks in the media whose immediate solution is to try to restrict the constitutional rights of law abiding citizens.” (It’s worth noting that Cruz “has received more funding from gun rights groups than any other politician since he was elected to Congress in 2012,” John Kruzel of The Hill pointed out Tuesday.)
And indeed, in no time at all, key conservative pundits trumpeted familiar, nothing-can-be-done responses to gun violence in America, as CNN’s Oliver Darcy pointed out in the evening. “DEMS USE TRAGEDY TO CALL FOR MORE GUN CONTROL,” the banner for Tucker Carlson’s show told viewers.
- “The F.B.I. released a report showing a steep rise in ‘active’ shooters on Monday,” via the New York Times, reporting Tuesday evening; read over the FBI’s findings, here;
- “Confronted with mass shootings, Texas Republicans have repeatedly loosened gun laws,” via the Texas Tribune, reporting Tuesday evening;
- “By doing nothing to prevent gun violence, nation chooses pain,” the editorial board of the San Antonio Express-News wrote just before midnight.
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Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 2009, North Korea detonated its second nuclear device in an underground test at a mountainous region in the northeastern part of the country. North Korea would conduct four more nuclear weapons tests over the next few years—in 2013, twice in 2016, and again 2017, which was Pyongyang’s last nuclear demonstration. The country’s seventh test is expected in the next few days, according to South Korean officials.
Russian forces are racing to encircle Ukrainians in two far-eastern cities, Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, on either side of the Siverskiy Donets River, Reuters reports Wednesday from Kramatorsk.
Moscow’s troops don’t seem to be able to pull off large-scale encirclements, according to the Institute for the Study of War, which may help explain these relatively smaller operations apparently designed to surround “the broader Severodonetsk area (including Rubizhne and Lysychansk), Bakhmut-Lysychansk, around Zolote (just northeast of Popasna), and around Ukrainian fortifications in Avdiivka.”
Bigger picture: “Russian forces have secured more terrain in the past week than efforts earlier in May,” ISW writes. “However, they have done so by reducing the scope of their objectives—largely abandoning operations around Izyum and concentrating on key frontline towns.” But overall, “Russian performance remains poor,” according to ISW.
New: Italy and Hungary want a ceasefire and peace talks to begin immediately, and this would seem to put the two nations at odds with the rest of the European Union, Reuters reports from Brussels.
Developing: Russia could default on its debt near the end of June, which would be a first for Moscow since 1917. That’s because today the U.S. Treasury Department closed a loophole it had provided allowing Russia to pay its international bond investors using American banks—Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase. The loophole was created to ease the transition; now that grace period has ended, and analysts expect Moscow’s economy to begin nosediving in the months ahead. The next date to watch here: June 23. AP has more, here; and the New York Times has this.
- “Russia Says It May Ease Ukraine Grain Blockade in Return for Sanctions Relief,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Wednesday;
- “U.S. intelligence document shows Russian naval blockade of Ukraine,” via the Washington Post, reporting Tuesday;
- “Scars of war seem to be everywhere in Ukraine after 3 months,” via AP, reporting separately Wednesday from Kramatorsk;
- “Russia offers fast-track citizenship to residents of occupied Ukraine,” via Reuters, reporting Wednesday;
- And “A Russian diplomat resigns: ‘Never have I been so ashamed of my country,’” via the Times, reporting Monday.
North Korea sent three more ballistic missiles into the East Sea, which is also known as the Sea of Japan, on Wednesday. The new launches come just one day after President Biden finished his tour of Asia, which included a stop in South Korea. This new test was North Korea’s “17th show of force this year,” Seoul’s Yonhap news reports.
It seemed to have involved an ICBM, and one of three missiles looked like it was “capable of shifting its trajectory in flight,” Japan’s defense minister said, according to a tweet by Reuters’ Josh Smith; Reuters reported elsewhere that one of the missiles may have failed mid-flight.
The U.S. and South Korean militaries responded with combined live-fire drills and missile launches of their own, though no ICBMs were involved.
Elsewhere in the region:
- “Multiple Russian, Chinese warplanes enter KADIZ without notice,” via South Korea’s Yonhap news, reporting Tuesday; the NYTs has more, here;
- “Quad Members Have Eyes on China, No Collective Comment on Russia,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Tuesday from Tokyo;
- “McConnell calls for Biden administration to increase weapon sales to Taiwan,” via the Washington Examiner, reporting Tuesday;
- The U.S. Navy just gave the Thai navy an RQ-21A drone;
- “Server hack yields harrowing images of life inside Chinese detention camps,” via Ars Technica, reporting Tuesday;
- “The faces from China’s Uyghur detention camps,” via the BBC on that same hack; read more about it, here.