Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School: Photo: Wikimedia Commons Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School: Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Could the student response to last weekend’s shootings be the spark for change? Sean Ledwith looks at gun violence in the United States 

The depressingly familiar ritual of America’s modern epidemic of school shootings was played out at again at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last weekend. First reports of a lone gunman entering a campus armed as if he was heading into a war zone; students being escorted off-site with their hands on their heads; and then the inevitable identification of the killer as a white male with a troubled personal history. The difference this time, however, is that the tragedy might actually provoke a sustained political backlash against the US elite and its gratuitous obsession with violence at home and abroad.

Political paralysis

 Students directly affected by the shooting mobilised two days later with supporters to march on the state capital demanding action from state legislators. Teenagers gave impassioned speeches refusing to accept the dominant American attitude that such events are almost like traffic accidents-awful but part of everyday life. Their defiance put to shame the paralysis that overcomes virtually all US politicians when the issue of gun control re-appears on the national agenda. Trump and his insidious sponsors from the National Rifle Association have struggled to respond in a meaningful way to the anger erupting from America’s classrooms and may soon find themselves on the receiving end of a major protest movement.

Massacre of the innocents

The raw numbers concerning school –based gun violence in the US are breath-taking-

  • The MSDH shooting was the 18th school shooting this year
  • There is one school-based shooting incident every 63 hours
  • 150 000 children have experienced at first hand a school shooting since the Columbine massacre of 1999
  • There have been 436 similar incidents since Columbine
  • 239 similar incidents since the Newtown massacre of 2012
  • 438 children have been shot dead in schools since Newtown
  • There are 53 000 gun related deaths every year

Trump and friends

Trump’s idiotic response to the problem is the barely-believable notion of arming teachers. Apart from the absurdity of bringing even more guns into the classroom, the proposal also belies the reality that 38 states already authorise teachers to carry a concealed weapon with a school’s permission. Of course, in episodes such as last year’s Last Vegas massacre (America’s worst ever spree shooting) the ability to shoot back is irrelevant when confronted with a sniper from an unknown elevated position. Trump declared his plan in a hastily-arranged meeting with survivors of the Parkland massacre in the White House a couple of days after the tragedy. Bizarrely, he was filmed holding a note from spin-doctors reminding him to express concern as he spoke to them! The execrable Wayne La Pierre, President of the National Rifle Association, outdid Trump for rank stupidity by repeating his mantra after Parkland that, “To stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun.” La Pierre’s thinly veiled political agenda is apparent in another statement from the same speech to the right-wing Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington that Socialism is a movement that loves a smear. La Pierre’s organisation (which donated $30 million to Trump’s 2016 election) also organised the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scheme that allowed 19 year old Nikolas Cruz to learn how to use the AR15 automatic assault rifle.

Occupy 2:0?

The scenes of vibrant, young and multicultural demonstrators bearing down on bastions of power across the US this week is reminiscent of the peak of the Occupy movement of 2011 that rattled the US establishment. It remains to be seen whether the current upsurge can match the impact of that period. However, the potential for overlap with the afterburn of the Sanders electoral campaign and the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests gives this moment the potential to re-energise the US left. Trump is planning a gratuitous display of American military might in the summer as part of a parade in Washington. The contrast between his glorification of destructive power and the students’ campaign to curtail will be striking to many. Further major mobilisations are planned in March and April. Maybe the Parkland tragedy really will be the turning point in ending America’s recurrent classroom nightmares.

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters

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