Thursday 24 May 2018

Almost 20 years after Columbine, a new generation has had enough

Letters signed by worshippers at a Methodist Church after shootings in nearby Parkland, Florida. Photo: REUTERS/Joe Skipper
Letters signed by worshippers at a Methodist Church after shootings in nearby Parkland, Florida. Photo: REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Julie Allen in Parkland, Florida

Almost a year after two teenagers murdered 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in 1999, then President Bill Clinton visited the Colorado town and reiterated his call for greater gun control.

''I don't want any future president to have to go to Columbine or to Springfield, Oregon, or to Jonesboro, Arkansas, or to any of the other places I have been,'' Mr Clinton said, rattling off some of the sites of recent shootings.

''It is tough enough to comfort the families of our servicemen and women who die in the line of duty. Children have no duties, except to their studies and their families. Our duty is to protect their lives, and give them futures.''

Almost 20 years after the horrific attack, there have been three different presidents - and three school shootings that have proved even deadlier, including the latest atrocity at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

By one estimate, more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus since the massacre in Colorado. By the time the latest gun attack took place on Wednesday, there had been a school shooting every 60 hours in the US.

Today's high school students were not even born when Columbine took place. They have grown up in an era of active-shooter drills, some have seen metal detectors introduced to keep out guns and bullet-proof backpacks are now available to buy.

U.S. President Donald Trump. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
U.S. President Donald Trump. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

What hasn't changed much are the gun laws and the survivors of the latest tragedy have had enough.

"To every politician taking donations from the NRA (National Rifle Association), shame on you!" declared student Emma Gonzalez in her fiery address to a crowd of students, parents and residents in Ft. Lauderdale on Saturday.

She attacked Donald Trump over the multi-million-dollar support his campaign received from the gun lobby, drawing chants of "shame on you" from the crowd.

She also criticised him for overturning a measure implemented by former President Barack Obama that required extra scrutiny of some gun buyers with a history of mental illness.

"Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have ever been done to prevent this, we call B.S." Gonzalez said.

"We are going to be the last mass shooting... We are going to change the law," she vowed, slamming the fact 19-year-old gunman Nikolas Cruz was able to legally buy a semi-automatic firearm despite a history of troubling and violent behaviour.

At the rally in downtown Fort Lauderdale, thousands of angry students, parents, and teachers of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School demanded immediate action be taken on gun-control legislation, insisting they would not relent until their demands were met.

"Because of these gun laws, people that I know, people that I love, have died, and I will never be able to see them again," Delaney Tarr, a student at the school, told the crowd swamping the steps and courtyard at the federal courthouse.

The crowd chanted: "Vote them out!" and held signs calling for action. Some read: "Never Again," "Do something now" and "Don't Let My Friends Die."

At a vigil on Thursday for the victims, a crowd of more than 1,000 people, consisting largely of students, chanted, "No more guns! No more guns!"

A weeping 19-year-old Tyra Hemans held posters of her dead friends, along with one that said "ENOUGH NO GUNS GunReform Now."

"I decided to make these signs so that when Donald Trump visits Parkland he knows that this is what I want. I want Congress to understand he took 17 lives from me yesterday. My friend will literally never get to say 'I graduated high school,'" she said through tears.

Not far away from the rally on Saturday, the opposite side of the debate was on full display. At a gun show in Miami Mike Vallone was buying an AR-15, the firearm used last Wednesday and the weapon of choice of several mass shooters.

Holding the $600 gun he was about to buy, Vallone voiced a familiar argument. "This does nothing by itself. This takes a human being to take the rifle, point it and shoot someone," Vallone said.

"The focus on gun control is an error and it won't stop someone determined to commit crimes."

Irish Independent

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