AMERICAN politicians seem conflicted as to whether their second amendment right to carry firearms is more important to them than the lives of citizens who are being mowed down by those same firearms in the hands of mentally disturbed persons.
Finally a group of Florida teenagers, who last week watched 17 of their classmates and teachers murdered, urged young persons from around the country to join their voices in protest. By noon yesterday, there were about 1,200 persons, mostly students, on the grounds of the Tallahassee State House. However, they were disappointed at their reception and the fact that almost 71 lawmakers had already voted against banning the semi-automatic weapon. An added insult was the fact that these lawmakers had an A rating from the National Rifle Association, which, because of the association’s heavy political donations, especially to the Republican Party, are blamed for keeping the guns on the streets.
Not to be deterred, the students plan to march on Washington on March 24, backed up by smaller rallies and protests around the US. Guns are the problem, one of them declared. “And, if legislators don’t listen?” a reporter asked a group. “Then we can do without them,” was the quick response of a determined young lady.
Most of these young people will be of voting age for the November mid-term elections, and they have declared that they will vote. If their voices are not heard now, they will certainly be heard then.
“I just know we must prioritise lives over guns,” said a 17-year-old senior. “Why is your right to own an AR-15 more important than a kid’s right to feel safe?” she asked, answering her own question with – “It’s not, it’s common sense.” Yes, it’s common sense. You can control a gun by banning it, but it is difficult, if not impossible – as last week’s shooting has proven – to detect a mentally disturbed person who pulls the trigger.
In the first two months of this year there have already been 18 school shootings in the US. So why is the second Amendment still so important to Americans?
Times have changed. In the intervening 227 years there is no need for militias to protect citizens against their own government. Today Americans have all the security that they need.
However, by a 2008 Supreme Court decision it was decided, for the first time in the country’s history, that an individual had a right to keep a weapon at home for self-defence. Despite all the carnage being caused by these easily available guns, lawmakers, supported by a strong gun lobby, are loathe to force citizens to give up their guns.
Parkland, named last year as the safest city in Florida, had its image shattered last week when gun shots rang out at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, ending the lives of 17 students and teachers, and wounding 14 others. The 19-year-old gunman, a former student of the school who had been expelled, obviously had mental problems. He was carrying a military-style AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
According to a 2002 US National Safety Council report in 1999, 3,385 children, ages from 0-9 years, were killed with a gun. This includes homicides, suicides and unintentional injuries.
We shall never forget a report several years ago of a teenager who, missing his curfew for being home at night, decided to sneak in through a window. His sleeping father, wakened by the noise, reached for his gun and shot. The next day he was planning his son’s funeral and explaining the accident to the police. If there had been no gun, there would have been no accident.
In the Parkland school shooting, there is talk of firing the police superintendent for not detecting the mental problems of the expelled teenager who, gun in hand, had taken down the Parkland school. What these lawmakers don’t seem to accept is that it is easier to remove a gun than to detect a mental case. After all, even though this young man had been expelled from the Parkland school, the family with whom he lived – they took him in after the death of his adoptive parents – knew he was depressed, but never expected him to be a killer. Also, although there were guns in the house, they thought they had the only key to where they had been secured.
Today lawmakers are concentrating on devising stiffer rules to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
Already America’s gun laws make no sense. It is illegal for a gun dealer to sell a handgun to anyone under 21, but not illegal for them to sell a military style gun to an 18-year-old. It is said that most Americans can buy an AR-15 rifle before they can buy beer. And to get around the no handgun rule for 18 year olds, there is the so-called “gun show loophole”. This keeps government out of private gun sales where age does not matter.
In our British tradition, guns have never been available without a police licence. To be caught with an unlicenced firearm means at least five years in prison with no questions asked. We remember the days when the “billy” strapped around a policeman’s waist was his only means of defence. Today policemen going out on a dangerous mission are armed, because of the ease with which guns in the United States are available to our criminal element in The Bahamas. And so law-abiding Bahamians should be equally interested in Americans banning the sale of guns, now the major source of our problems – as well as theirs.
Americans would be wise to ban the sale of guns to the public. Those who want to own a gun would then have to apply to the state for a licence to purchase and own the gun. Therefore, instead of the police having to search for the mentally unstable, it would be easier for them to assess whether a person indicates instability when they come in to apply for the licence.
As the young Parkland student said, it is so obvious that this is just “common sense”. But as the debate is now raging in the US it would seem that “common sense” is not so common among many lawmakers.