America’s absurd new battle: Schoolchildren versus the Gun Lobby

Rania Khalek
Rania Khalek is an American journalist, writer and political commentator based in the Middle East.
America’s absurd new battle: Schoolchildren versus the Gun Lobby
America has reached a very low point when children are begging adults to pass gun control legislation to protect them from being killed at school. Yet, still, the adults in charge of the country are responding with a firm ‘no’.

Last Wednesday, my 14-year-old nephew joined 400 students at his northern Virginia middle school for a walkout to demand that lawmakers pass gun control legislation to prevent school shootings. He and his fellow classmates protested for seventeen minutes to honor the seventeen victims gunned down on February 14 by a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Walkouts have been taking place at schools across the country since the Parkland shooting. My nephew’s school district was supportive of the action but that wasn’t the case everywhere. One Texas school district and another in Wisconsin threatened to punish students who participated, demonstrating the uphill battle children face. Still, there are more protests to come, including a National High School Walkout on April 20, which will mark 19 years since the school shooting in Columbine, Colorado, where two students shot and killed 12 classmates, a teacher and, ultimately, themselves.

Different Times?

I remember Columbine well. I was 13 and in the seventh grade at the time. Since then, mass shootings have only grown worse in their intensity and casualty count.

There have been at least 25 major school shootings since Columbine, the most infamous being the massacre of 21 first graders at Sandy Hook elementary school in 2012, after which lawmakers did nothing to meaningfully address the nation’s gun problem. If the wanton murder of nearly two dozen first graders at Sandy Hook wasn’t enough to push congress to address gun violence, then it stands to reason that nothing will.  

School shootings occur with such alarming frequency in the US that many people have become desensitized to them. The Parkland shooting was the eighth in 2018 alone, and we haven’t even made it to the end of February.

With each shooting, it’s the same predictable formula. First comes shock and horror at the casualties, then empty thoughts and prayers from politicians, most of whom collect plenty of money from the National Rifle Association and thus refuse to do anything to prevent the next massacre. This is usually followed by the same tired debates about whether guns kill people or people kill people. And after a week or so, sometimes less (depending on the death count), the names and faces of the victims fade and everyone moves on until the next massacre captures our attention.

This morbid routine, combined with a lack of political will to do anything about the  problem, has led to a collective feeling of cynical defeatism, especially for those of us who were children during Columbine and who lived through Virginia Tech and felt helpless after Sandy Hook. Our lawmakers are clearly unmoved by dead children. Nothing will change this.

But there was something about last week’s school shooting in Florida that was different. Schoolchildren, like my nephew, are loudly pushing back. They’re sick of being afraid at school, a place where they’re supposed to feel safe. Lawmakers have made a conscious decision to prioritize the interests of the gun industry over the lives of America’s children, so kids are fiercely voicing their outrage at elected officials in an unprecedented fashion.  

Adult Failures

Addressing a rally outside the Florida state legislature, Florida school shooting survivor Florence Yared warned congress, “You have the power to change this and if you don’t, then we will change you. We may be too young to vote, but soon we will be able to vote and we will vote you out.”

“You adults have failed us,” she said.

“My message for the people in office is: you're either with us or against us. We are losing our lives while the adults are playing around,”said Cameron Kasky, a junior who survived the Stoneman Douglas shooting.  

Despite the impassioned pleas of the children, policymakers aren’t budging.

Florida lawmakers overwhelmingly voted down an attempt to consider an assault weapons ban against the impassioned pleas of Parkland survivors. That very same day, Florida’s legislature voted to label pornography a hazard to public health. Apparently porn is more dangerous than guns, which is almost too comical to be true. And it’s hardly the most outrageous reaction to the latest shooting.

Lawmakers subservient to the NRA were, as usual, quick to recommend arming teachers as the solution. This idea is often brought to you by the same rightwing officials who are constantly demanding that we pay teachers less and defund and privatize schools. Sure, let’s force underpaid math and science teachers to moonlight as Rambo, but sorry, there’s no money for pens and notebooks and let’s get rid of those art programs, they’re too costly!

America’s gun fetish

These children have a tough battle ahead. On top of challenging a political system that is completely subservient to the gun lobby, they are also up against a culture that fetishizes guns to such an absurd degree that parents of survivors were defending guns in the immediate aftermath of the massacre in Parkland. From the Guardian:

"John Crescitelli, a family doctor and 15 year-old Sarah Crescitelli’s father, was shaking as he was reunited with his daughter. He feared she had been killed.

Asked by the Guardian if the tragedy should lead to stricter gun control for people with mental health issues, he replied: 'I don’t want to get into a gun debate. I really don’t. What are you going to do? Confiscate everybody’s guns? We have millions and millions of weapons … I’m a gun owner. I don’t want the government taking my gun.'”

He wasn’t the only parent to balk at gun regulations:

"Michael Irwin, another parent whose son attended the school, shared Crescitelli’s view. All the regulation in the world wouldn’t have prevented necessarily what happened today. It’s something that’s tragic, but what regulation can you pass that takes away the guns that are already out there? he said."

"His son was waiting to hear if one of his close classmates was among the dead. By late Wednesday evening, Irwin said, the student was still missing."

Mass shootings in the US are unparalleled in any other nation in the world, including war zones. While there are many contributing factors, the main one is the accessibility of guns, specifically the sort of weapons that are designed to kill a lot of people in a very short amount of time, such as the AR-15 and similar models.

Americans account for less than five percent of the world population yet they possess a whopping 42 percent of the world’s guns. Firearms are so easily accessible that people hoard them. Like Stephen Paddock, for instance,  the man who shot 58 people to death in Las Vegas at a country music concert in October. And children can easily purchase them.  

But the gun industry spends millions of dollars on propaganda that blames gun violence on everything except guns. Nevertheless, young people aren’t buying it.

A rotten system

At a CNN town hall meeting, Republican Senator Marco Rubio argued against banning certain assault weaponry because it would inevitably lead to the banning of all assault rifles. “You would literally have to ban every semi-automatic rifle that’s sold in America,” he started to say. But he was quickly interrupted by thunderous applause and cheers from the audience, many of whom were high school children, in support of banning all assault rifles.

Rubio “seemed to watch the political ground of the gun debate shift under his feet,”observed the Guardian’s Richard Wolffe.

And when confronted by a Stoneman Douglas survivor asking if he would quit taking money from the NRA, Rubio responded that the money from the NRA is beside the point and went on to reaffirm his support for the second amendment, garnering loud boos from the audience.

That said, the gun debate looks much different than it did before the Florida shooting and we have schoolchildren to thank for that. Whether this translates into meaningful gun reform remains to be seen but it is certainly a sign for cautious optimism. Too bad it took the deaths of so many American schoolchildren to simply change the conversation.

If anything, this latest school shooting episode shows just how rotten America’s political system is. It’s so rotten, so corrupt, so in the pocket of big lobbies that nothing can sway lawmakers to take action against totally preventable mass shootings in America’s schools. It is an absolute disgrace that America’s schoolchildren have to beg and plead with the adults in charge of the country to protect them from being shot at school. It’s schoolchildren versus the gun lobby and America’s politicians are choosing the latter.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.