Monday 23 September 2019

Students' response to latest shooting leaves NRA in the firing line


Mourners leave the funeral of Aaron Feis, one of the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida, Photo: Reuters
Mourners leave the funeral of Aaron Feis, one of the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida, Photo: Reuters

David Millward

My late father-in-law taught art at a Connecticut high school about 50km west of Sandy Hook. I thought of him when Donald Trump came up with his latest wheeze to stop kids getting slaughtered at their desks.

The idea of my father-in-law packing heat as he drove his Rambler Metropolitan to work every day borders on the surreal.

Of course, he could perhaps have kept a Colt in his desk along with class seating plans, pens, pencils and the odd paint brush.

Then one has to ask where he would have kept his bullet-proof vest.

Maybe he could have kept it in the staff room, before donning it as he went into the classroom.

I find myself asking what sort of training would he have been offered. Perhaps basic pistol training would have sufficed.

But that hardly would have been much use against an assault weapon. So would he have been taught how to wield an AR-15?

Of course, there are other questions. If teachers were supposed to provide their own guns, would the cost be tax deductible? School boards could have a line in their budgets for teachers' weapons, which would be handed out with the morning coffee.

Then there is the slight problem of the Trump scheme being illegal under federal law. The Gun-Free School Zones Act bans weapons within 1,000 feet of a school.

In France, the big debate is over whether schools are legally obliged to have canteens.

In America, it is whether teachers should be armed. That is worth reflecting upon. Such is the level of violence in America that one school in 10 believes it necessary to use a metal detector to screen people as they arrive.

The pupils and parents of Parkland have shamed the administration; they have shamed Congress; they have shamed local politicians. Even rudimentary measures, such as reimposing the lapsed 1994 assault weapon ban - officially, the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act - are beyond them. It survived 10 years before being allowed to expire.

In Florida, less than a week after the Parkland mass shooting, the state legislature voted down a bill which would have paved the way for a ban on future sales of assault weapons, while approving a measure declaring pornography a public health risk.

The bill would not have even made people hand in assault weapons if they already owned them. They would, however, have been expected to apply for a certificate of ownership.

Apparently, the 71 Florida legislators who voted down the bill all have an "A-rating" from the National Rifle Association (NRA).

Good for them. The NRA spends a fortune in political donations.

According to one estimate, it expended $11m (€9m) in direct contributions to federal politicians and many times that on ads attacking those who want to tighten gun laws.

The NRA is not an organisation which anybody wants to cross, as gunmakers Smith & Wesson discovered in 2000.

With lawyers threatening the gun industry with massive lawsuits, holding it responsible for the deaths its weapons caused, Smith & Wesson cut a deal with the Clinton administration. It agreed on a package of safety measures including the introduction of locking devices, limits on clip sizes and some restrictions on sales.

The NRA was furious, issuing a stream of press releases accusing the company - which it pointed out was "British owned" - of caving in.

It instigated a consumer boycott and the company tanked, with sales dropping by 40pc.

The boot may be on the other foot now. Citizens' groups such as Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America have taken out a two-page advert in the 'New York Times', naming and shaming every member of Congress who has been funded by the NRA - and setting out how much they received. Given the public anger which erupted following Parkland, an "A" rating from the NRA may not be good news in the mid-terms.

Let us hope so and perhaps classrooms will not be turned into the OK Corral, and teachers can concentrate on teaching rather than pretending to be John Wayne.

Irish Independent

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