Grieving students demand gun control reform

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Last week saw the latest tragedy in a long string of tragedies that have become almost commonplace in the United States since 1999: another mass shooting. Almost 20 years ago, the Columbine High School massacre shone an unpleasant light on America’s gun-loving society, with 13 people – of which twelve were teenage students – dying at the hands of fellow students. The latest school shooting, at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, saw 17 people killed.

In the two decades between these incidents, there have been numerous school shootings, including the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, where almost 30 people (most of them children) were killed. In fact, according to US media, Columbine no longer ranks among the top 10 deadliest mass shootings - last year’s carnage at a Las Vegas music festival takes top spot, with 57 dead.

Each of these incidents garnered the same reactions: Shock and horror from the American people, prayers and condolences from those in authority, and then the debates about gun control laws in the country fizzing out in the face of proponents of the Second Amendment.

The Second Amendment was adopted on 15 December 1791 as part of the first 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights. Drafted in the years immediately following colonial rule, many in America deeply mistrusted the idea of a standing army, such as the British forces they had recently defeated. The Amendment thus states: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”.

That right has been fiercely defended by Republican lawmakers and organisations such as the National Rifle Association (NRA). Despite the fact that mass shooting after mass shooting highlights the dangers inherent in easy access to guns, Americans have continued to believe the NRA’s slogan of “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

This is now changing. The Stoneman Douglas students have channelled their grief into rage, and are using that to try and change America’s relationship to guns and the Second Amendment.

The rage, evident on the day of the shooting, has seen students standing up to authority figures – including President Donald Trump – launching protests to change gun control laws, and vociferously showing the world that America’s teenagers are far more mature than many of their adult counterparts.

Donald Trump’s tweet on the day of the shooting: “My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school”, saw response from one of the Stoneman Douglas students: “I don’t want your condolences ... . Prayers won’t fix this. But gun control will prevent it from happening again.”

This tone has continued in every interview and appearance from the school children, who have become activists for gun control. In a march on the state legislature by the students, 18 year-old Emma Gonzales made a speech. It seems the youngsters have noticed they are acting with more maturity than lawmakers who rejected a bill for stricter gun control just two days after the shooting, evident in her statement that “the people in the government who are voted into power are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and are prepared to call B.S.”

With this kind of fervour – and the fact that the Stoneman Douglas students have vowed not to give up the fight – one would think it would be a safe bet that America’s gun control laws will be changed. However, Donald Trump seems to believe that the way to stop mass shootings is to arm teachers, and is proposing a bill to that effect.

It seems it is now left to America’s children to show the world that logic and maturity have not been completely defeated in that country. Indeed, America’s future looks to be in safe hands. It’s America’s present that is a tragedy.


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