Students inspire the call for change.
Chris McDonnell CT Friday March 9th 2018
By the time these few words reach print, we will have moved on; that is the nature of our fast-moving world. There is no doubt that the Ash Wednesday atrocity in the Marjory Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, is likely to be seen as a watershed in the American story of the Second Amendment.
It was another significant marker in a long-standing story of gun availability to the ordinary citizen, the right claimed through the Constitution to bear arms. Unfortunately we are living in the time when the type of gun on sale has greatly exceeded the power of those in earlier years.
Living as I do in the UK, I find it inconceivable that teenagers, too young to buy a beer, can walk into a gun store and buy a killing machine intended for rapid fire in a war zone. But that is the case in the US. The story of Columbine (1999), Sandy Hook (2012) and now Douglas (2018) provides a litany of tragedy with young lives taken with indiscriminate ease and numerous families and communities left grieving. Altogether since 2013, there have been over 300 school incidents involving guns. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
Here in 1996, in Dunblane, a Primary School was attacked with significant loss of young children. The consequence was a considerable tightening of our gun laws and, thank goodness, there has been no further such attack. At the same time schools paid greater attention to their own security regarding visitors and general identity checks.
Not so, it seems, in the US. The cause of such horror is placed firmly on the weapon holder, not his legally easy access to the local gun store. The occupant of the White House blamed ‘mental illness’ and didn’t mention a word about his chosen weapon, an automatic AR15.
His speech to the National Rifle Association at the recent CPAC, (Conservative Political Action Conference) addressed his political grassroots, to loud, standing applause and cheering from his audience. A matter of political opportunism rather than Presidential leadership at a time of grief.
There was much in that speech that was despicable; I want to concentrate on one proposal, that teachers should be armed as first- responders in the classroom. The principle of such a suggestion I challenge. Having spent thirty seven years of my professional life teaching in schools, the last twenty four as a headteacher, I cannot imagine anything further from the vocation of teaching. Can anyone begin to contemplate a classroom shoot-out between an automatic weapon and a hand gun, drawn by a teacher in the middle of explaining maths to a group of youngsters? Were it to come about the first target would be the teacher if he or she were known to be possibly carrying a gun.
It would seem to be more appropriate to attempt to kill the attacker than to take measures to prevent the incident in the first place.
With the failure of ‘adult’ politicians to come up with a solution, the students have taken up the challenge. Across the US, they have taken the path of protest to the streets, demanding their voice be heard. They took their voice to the White House and met with the President who, clutching his crib notes, seemed to fail to understand the depth of their pain. Their articulate response has been to their credit, even though it was said that they were ‘actors’ bussed in for the purpose. Shame on that suggestion.
With their example, the NRA has begun to lose business endorsements, maybe a first indication of a change of tone.
The time has come for the principles of the NRA to be challenged and their political support for the Republican party to be called to question. The $21M dollars given to the 2016 Election Campaign was not insignificant.
What can the Church contribute to the discussion? At all levels our voice must be heard and a defining position taken. We are quick-and rightly so-to condemn abortion. This school crisis is also a matter of right to life and demands courageous action. A couple of days after Douglas High School, I wrote these few words.
He lay, sprawled on the floor
she lay, untidily beside him.
Two teenagers among many
attending High School class
lost to a killing machine
built only for killing.
Later, at a press conference
mention is made
of ‘mental illness’,
no mention is made
of the killing machine
he held in his hands,
no question is asked
as to why he held it.
an eighteenth later stood
shackled, orange suited
in a county court room.
Not yet old enough to buy a beer
but old enough to purchase,
legally, his killing machine
and in his incapacity,
May they rest in peace