February 21, 2018 - Washington, District of Columbia, U.S. - Students from the DC area walk out of class to demand gun control legislation at a gathering outside the White House. Erin Scott/Press Association. All rights reserved.
"Every single person up here today, all these people should be home grieving. But instead we are up here standing together because if all our government and President can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it's time for victims to be the change that we need to see".
- Emma Gonzales
In his inaugural address, Donald Trump promised that he would keep American children safe. So far he has failed. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida was the scene of the eighth school shooting this year in the US. It was a massacre committed by a former student, wielding a legally acquired semi-automatic weapon, and killing seventeen people.
Gun killings in America have reached a point where we no longer tell our children that it won’t happen again but prepare them for the next time it will. Students are now expected to know how to behave during a shooting just as they are to know history.
Contrary to what many conservatives believe, it is now that we should talk politics to ensure this never happens again and to demonstrate that the madness lies not in America’s children but in its gun laws.
The madness is not in America’s children but in its gun laws.
Guns over people
America is the most dangerous wealthy country for a child to be born. Most people don’t need a permit to buy a gun in Florida. They don’t need a gun licence. They don’t have to register a firearm. And they can buy as many guns as they want at one time. The teenagers shot down in Florida were born in a country that places political interests above their lives.
This is a caricature of the Second Amendment. The landmark case District of Columbia versus Heller (2008) controversially reversed a long-held position and ruled that Americans have a right to own firearms. In light of this, Justice Scalia has argued that enforcing this right must come hand in hand with legislature which supports background checks and takes into consideration unusual and dangerous weapons.
He reasoned that a balance must always be struck between the need to protect public safety and an individuals second amendment rights, asserting that there is no unconstrained individual right to own a gun.
Today, millions of Americans believe that they have an absolute right to own a gun and politicians have failed to explain to them that doing so comes with specific responsibilities.This failure goes beyond allowing the pro-gun lobby to effectively hijack the Second Amendment: the first and foremost responsibility of any government is to protect its citizens, which successive governments have failed to do. The Democrats failed to rise to the challenge in 2009 and 2010 even when they controlled the White House and Congress.
The Democrats failure to protect American citizens contrasts with the Republicans uninterest in doing so.
After the Sandy Hook massacre, Barack Obama launched a plan for reducing gun violence. The program included twenty-two executive orders, twelve proposals for Congress and reinstating the ban on assault weapons approved during the Clinton administration. One of the critical elements of the plan was a bill introduced by Senator Diane Feinstein on assault weapons, which was defeated by a vote of 40 to 60 – fifteen Democrats voted against.
The Democrats failure to protect American citizens contrasts with the Republicans uninterest in doing so. It´s difficult to think otherwise when on the anniversary of the massacre in Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Republican Party passed a bill making concealed carry laws uniform across the country.
Donald Trump and Paul Ryan’s remarks about mental health are an exercise in manipulation and hypocrisy. Earlier last year, Congress passed a Trump signed law revoking a regulatory initiative designed by Barack Obama to make it harder for people with certain mental healthy issues to buy a gun. If the President and the House Speaker are so worried about mental health why have they revoked the laws designed to cope with this condition? Perhaps for the Republicans, talking about mental health is more comfortable than talking about firearms.
Why in America?
As Senator Chris Murphy said in the aftermath of the attack on Florida, this only happens in the United States. Not because of bad luck but because of inaction. Americans count for 4.4% of the world population but own 42% of the world´s guns.
Adjusted for population only Yemen – which has the world´s second-highest rate of gun ownership – has a higher rate of mass shootings amongst countries with more than ten million inhabitants.
Americans are not more predisposed to crime than other developed nations. However, crime is more lethal in America.Research suggests that the discrepancy comes down to gun ownership. More guns mean more gun murderers in the world, in America’s states and American cities.
As Senator Chris Murphy said in the aftermath of the attack on Florida, this only happens in the United States. Not because of bad luck but because of inaction.
Most studies find that regulation tends to reduce gun murders. No law can eliminate the risk of mass shootings, but they can limit it. Most Americans support some gun-regulation, such as restricting gun sales to anyone found guilty of a violent crime, expanding background checks for gun purchasers and gun-purchase limits. According to polls, Americans would prefer limiting the types of people who could obtain a weapon rather than restricting the types of guns.
Having said this, school shootings are not exclusive to America. Germany faced the same problem in the early 2000s, and when a 17-year-old stole his father´s gun and killed nine students and three teachers in 2009 the country was quick to tighten its gun laws. To purchase a firearm Germans must be over 18-years-old, undergo a psychological exam if they are less than 25-years-old and earn a certificate that proves they know how to use it.
Americans are not more predisposed to crime than other developed nations. However, crime is more lethal in America.
The same happened in other developed countries. In Australia, after the Port Arthur shooting in 1996, which claimed the lives of 35 people, the government passed the National Firearms Agreement, banning automatic and semiautomatic rifles. In Britain, after 16 children and a teacher were killed in Dunblane in 1996, the government banned private ownership of automatic weapons and forbade the private ownership of handguns on Britain’s mainland. In Canada, gun restriction on handguns and automatic weapons were expanded in 1989 to include rifles and shotguns, after an armed individual killed 14 students in an engineering school in Montreal.
The problem is that faced time after time with the disjunctive of protecting their citizens’ lives or not upsetting their support base and donors, American politicians chose the latter. What sets the United States apart is not culture but the lack of political will to put an end to the bloodshed.
High school students protest against gun violence and for gun law reform. Minneapolis, Minnesota. February 21, 2018. Fibonacci Blue/Flickr. Some rights reserved.
If Congress doesn’t act, voters must
Most American support stricter gun laws but most Republicans in Congress – and Donald Trump – stand in their way. They are afraid of alienating their voters and losing the support of the pro-gun lobby.
The long arm of the National Rifle Association has a disproportionate influence over American politics. Take for example Marco Rubio, who received 3.3 million dollars as of October 2017. Rick Scott, Florida´s Governor, who has spent the past seven years lifting restrictions on guns, opposing stricter background checks and waiting periods to purchase assault weapons and Donald Trump, who spent his 99th day in office in an NRA meeting promising that he “would come through for them since they came through for him”.
What sets the United States apart is not culture but the lack of political will to put an end to the bloodshed.
This shadow over democracy in America is endangering the lives of American children. Representing less than a fifth of all gun owners in the country, the NRA has been able to block several federal initiatives, including government-funded gun violence research and several bans on assault weapons. The NRA spends millions influencing the White House and Congress to further its agenda, especially during presidential campaigns, supporting candidates that defend expanded gun rights and opposing those who want to regulate them.
America is nothing but small nowadays. What Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, said during her 11-minute intervention reminded us that we live in a cynical world. The President of the United States and the Republican Party have decided that the rights of adults outweigh students’ right to live.
But there are moments when citizens say they´ve had enough and this is the moment for children in America, who have had enough of empty expressions of sympathy, pointless concessions and fake condolences on social media.
Faced time after time with the disjunctive of protecting their citizens’ lives or not upsetting their support base and donors, American politicians chose the latter.
The Never Again movement and the midterm elections in the fall are opportunities for voters to stand up to the NRA and to remove from office those who put their political aspirations above human lives. It´s an opportunity to get the message across: elected officials should work for the people. Enabling violence cannot be obscured by feeling sorry today and getting back to normal tomorrow. But, most and above all, it´s a chance to remember those who might have forgotten that there are many important things to fight for, but none as important as our children. Their security is not for sale.