This is no time to talk politics, we’re told by gun-loving conservatives.
This is a time for prayers, we’re told by Donald Trump.
The school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that claimed 17 lives has provoked an eruption of impassioned calls for action against gun violence from young survivors, community leaders and a reeling sheriff left shell-shocked from one of the worst massacres in modern American history.
At a Thursday press conference, local officials lined up to express their determination that something must now be done to stem the bloodletting in America’s schools and other public places. The shooting ranked among the top 10 deadliest gun rampages in the country, three of which have happened in the past four months.
“The violence has to stop. We cannot lose another child in this country to violence in a school,” said Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, promising to meet state lawmakers to search for solutions on mental illness and gun control.
But amid the anguished cries for action rising up from Florida, a national tone was set by Donald Trump that was largely devoid of a sense of urgency. In a televised “address to the nation” made in part directly to the children of America – “you are never alone”, he said – the president gave no concrete indications of steps to prevent repetitions of Wednesday’s disaster.
There have been many attempts to tackle assault weapons like the AR-15. When Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat, tried to do that in 2013, one month after the Sandy Hook school massacre, there were 60 no votes that killed the effort, including those of 15 Democrats.
Among those no votes was one Marco Rubio, the Florida senator, who told Fox News on Wednesday that now wasn’t the time to talk about gun control. “I think you can always have that debate,” he said. “But if you’re gonna have that debate about this particular incident you should know the facts of that incident before you run out and prescribe some law that you claim could have prevented it.”
Senator Rubio: save yourself the trouble. The last time you heard the facts, you voted against regulating the very gun that massacred all those schoolchildren at Sandy Hook.
Rubio can get away with this nonsense now, even more than he could in 2013. There were 20 children killed at Sandy Hook and America was shocked to its core. There were 17 children killed in Parkland, and by next week we’ll all just pretend it was the cost of doing business.
Anger and frustration began to explode, however, among those touched most intimately by the calamity. A pupil named Sarah at Stoneman Douglas responded to Trump’s tweeted condolences by lashing out in her own tweet: “I don’t want your condolences – multiple of my fellow classmates are dead. Do something instead of sending prayers.”
The suspected shooter, Nikolas Cruz, 19, was expected to make his first appearance in court on Thursday afternoon, charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. Even as he was booked, details emerged of potential warning signs that had been missed in advance of the massacre.
The FBI disclosed that they had been informed last September that a YouTube user going under the name Nikolas Cruz had expressed a desire to become a “professional school shooter.”
However, the shooter had not committed a crime that would have prevented him from purchasing the assault weapon he legally purchased under America’s lenient gun laws.
Kaleb Martinez, 16, a junior year student was inside the school when the shooting occurred but had left the freshman building where the shooter is said to have opened fire just 10 minutes before the massacre began.
“I’m just blessed to be here today,” he said, adding he had seen through social media that two of his friends were reportedly killed.
“This is the best, definitely the best time to be talking about cutting out guns,” Matinez said. “People who have guns, that needs to go, that needs to stop. This is crazy. No family should have to worry about sending their kids to school and if they’re going to come home or not. It’s a terrible feeling.”
Any debate about how to respond to gun violence is likely to be informed by details unfolding about the Parkland shooter. Questions are now being asked about how a teenager known widely in his community as a “troubled kid” who had received sporadic treatment for mental health problems and was expelled from Stoneman Douglas school for violence, had an obsession with firearms and delighted in shooting animals, could so easily buy a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle of the sort that has been at the center of so many previous rampages.
Despite being too young to buy beer, Cruz was able legally to purchase an AR-15 about a year ago, according to a law enforcement official cited by Associated Press – federal law in the US allows anyone over 18 to buy a rifle given limited background checks.
The simple answer is that many in government are unwilling to do anything to meaningfully update America’s antiquated gun laws, which were written when no one could anticipate the types of rapid fire, large capacity weapons that are now easily obtained throughout the nation.
Politicians must be willing to stand up to the NRA and take steps to get these weapons off the market and out of the hands of the public.
It’s at times like these that a normal president would step up to take action to protect its citizens. But we don’t have one of those right now.
No one needs an AR-15.
Until the day that a majority of Americans demand that their elected officials take a stand and create meaningful gun control laws, horrific shootings like the one in Florida will continue with sickening rapidity.