Friday 21 September 2018

Gun lobby running scared as students seek change to their country's grim reality

Florida shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez. Photo: AP
Florida shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez. Photo: AP

Rob Crilly

When does the tipping point come? It didn't arrive when 12 students and a teacher were murdered at Columbine High School in 1999. Nor even when 20 pupils, aged six and seven, were shot dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Is it possible that last week's shooting in Florida, where 17 people died, could be different?

The young students whose proximity to brutality has catapulted them to the front line of America's endless gun debate may have the power to make a difference.

Their youthful passion is coupled with pragmatism and media savvy that makes them a force with which to be reckoned.

"We're realistic teenagers that realise the only way to save as many children's lives as possible at this point is to compromise," is how 17-year-old David Hogg put it to me this week (on the phone from Los Angeles, where he was appearing on TV).

They don't want to take away America's guns.

They want to make America safer, with a combination of background checks, age limits and mental health care reforms.

This makes them very dangerous indeed to those who make their money selling guns. How else to explain how Mr Hogg has been slimed by the far-right as a professional protester?

If we believe what the trolls are saying, he is in the pay of George Soros, coached by gun-control advocates, and parachuted into crises to push their line.

Even mainstream commentators have joined in, writing off the student activists as naive and foolish, or complaining their status as victims doesn't make them experts on gun control. So far, however, the voices cannot be ignored.

On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump held a listening session at the White House with victims of gun violence, including survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre.

This is not a president known for listening.

It is notable that the discussion was held at all. Something is happening.

The session was packed with emotion, as students pleaded with the president to make it harder for teenagers to buy guns.

A bereaved father spoke of his pain at losing a daughter.

It was intense but civilised; painful but compelling viewing.

Mr Trump was ready for it, armed with his own National Rifle Association talking points. His solution? Arm teachers.

"A teacher would have a concealed gun on them, they would go for special training and they would be there, and you would no longer have a gun-free zone," he said.

The idea, of course, is a nonsense.

More guns solves nothing and Mr Trump is suggesting - without the first understanding of the implications of his own proposal - turning schools into battlefields, with all the psychological and emotional damage that would do to pupils and what is left of American childhood.

But that's not the point. Mr Trump was in the room with them.

He cannot fail to have been affected by the stories.

There is an opportunity for courage here. Mr Trump could even prove himself a leader where Barack Obama so miserably failed.

Mr Obama was the president accused of trying to take away Americans' guns in the wake of the Sandy Hook murders.

The gun lobby will find it less easy to dismiss Mr Trump. He has championed the Second Amendment but has such a grip on his party and its grass-roots that he is perfectly placed to lead them in a historic reversal, dropping his call to arm teachers as part of a grand bargain with liberals to increase age limits on gun sales, for example.

Horrific

Far-fetched? Perhaps. We've been here before, of course.

We are in a cycle where the horrific firepower on America's streets means each year brings new records in fatalities, new depths of loss, new heights of outrage, and the same spectacular level of inaction from the politicians.

Things never seem to change.

This generation of activists may come up against the same roadblock of entrenched interests as their predecessors.

Or it may be that the first generation born and schooled after Columbine, who have lived and learned with the ever-present threat of a shooting, who have been trained in active-shooter drills, who know how to "shelter in place", understand the stakes better than anyone else.

They grasp one simple truth: that school shootings are not an aberration, but America's 21st century reality.

© Daily Telegraph London

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