Mass shootings in the United States follow a predictable pattern. First there is the shock and outrage, then there are proposals to restrict access to firearms, and then there is the inevitable nothingness of lawmakers sitting on their hands and pleasing their NRA masters. After Newtown, there was talk of an assault weapons ban and universal background checks. Didn’t happen. After Las Vegas, an even more modest attempt to ban bump stocks that even the National Rifle Association was fine with regulating. Nothing.
Will the death of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. last week be treated any differently? Maybe, just maybe it will be. There is a distinct “enough is enough” feeling in the air, an outcry that resonates more than most, perhaps even more than Sandy Hook Elementary where 20 children between six and seven years old and six adults were shot dead. It’s not coming from the usual suspects, the gun control advocates who scarcely needed another shooting to make their points and then be ignored for the umpteenth time. No, the most compelling testimony to be heard this past week came from the Douglas teens who survived the massacre and are now “calling B.S.” on the politicians and their business-as-usual response to mass shootings.
Between funerals and grief counseling sessions, students like Emma Gonzalez are refusing to be relegated to political photo ops. They know what it’s like to cower under a desk or flee from a building because a deranged killer is on the loose, and to lose friends and classmates to a troubled person with a grudge and easy access to an AR-15, the mass shooter’s assault weapon of choice. Their message carries with it the pain of loss, of anger, of raw emotion, and it is heartbreaking to hear. You can’t just shrug off these Florida students. You can’t just accuse them of being “gun grabbers” or whatever the latest term the 2nd Amendment fetishists have assigned those who favor gun safety.
“The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us,” Ms. Gonzalez, an 18-year-old senior said at a rally in Fort Lauderdale last weekend. “And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice, and our parents, to call B.S.”
Indeed, the lies have already started. Like those who are pointing to the FBI’s failure to confront Nikolas Cruz, the Florida school shooter, despite receiving warnings on a government-run tip line that receives hundreds of thousands of calls each year. President Donald Trump even went so far as to suggest the FBI was distracted by the Russia investigation, which surely has all of zero impact on the Florida field office. But what if FBI agents had shown up on Mr. Cruz’s doorstep. Would they have arrested him, dragged him to a psychiatric hospital, gotten doctors to agree to involuntarily commit him? This isn’t “Minority Report.” You can’t be arrested for crimes you haven’t committed yet. In case no one has noticed, mass shooters are rare, but people who post crazy stuff online are quite common.
No, what’s going on from the politicians is a lot of smoke and obfuscation, more of the what-about-itisms that have become so popular of late. They’ll blame the state of mental health care and hope you won’t notice they’ve limited access to such care by reducing the number of Americans with health insurance. They’ll claim we don’t know enough about how to prevent such murders while failing to mention that they are the ones who limited government spending on that very kind of research. They might even agree to “strengthen” background checks but offer legislation like what Sen. John Cornyn of Texas has sponsored that helps but only infinitesimally by mandating more reporting of criminal behavior from the federal government but giving states a mere financial incentive to upload records. Small wonder that President Trump expressed interest in this particular brand of weak tea before signaling Tuesday that he’s looking toward bump stock regulations, too.
No one who has watched Congress over the last several decades believes gun reforms stand a chance. The NRA is too powerful, too well-funded, their constituents too motivated by the single issue to be defeated. Their allies know the American public actually stands against them. Most people, even NRA members, don’t want AR-15’s in the hands of people like the Florida shooter. What they count on is that the anger of the moment, the furor, the hurt, the grief, all that will fade and people will move on. Maybe, but maybe not this time. In Florida, survivors are taking a stand. They want action on gun safety, and they deserve it.
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