Columnist Karen Gardner:  Parkland students making a difference

  • High school students from Montgomery County in suburban Washington march in solidarity with those affected by the shooting at Parkland High School in Florida, at the Capitol in Washington, on Wednesday.  AP PHOTO

Monday, February 26, 2018

On most Saturday mornings, you can find me at Forbes Library in Northampton playing my ukulele with a group of other like-minded ukulele lovers. We meet each week to play and sing together, letting the rhythms and harmonies lift our spirits as only making music can.

But one recent Saturday, as I sat in our song circle, the familiar sense of camaraderie and safety suddenly left me, and I was overtaken with the realization that someone with an assault rifle could walk in and begin firing. I knew there would be nothing to stop it from happening. We and everyone else in this country are at the mercy of anyone with the intent to do harm, and that’s the plain truth.

Of course, what brought these terrifying thoughts to mind was the most recent school shooting that occurred on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 students and staff were shot dead and 14 others injured. The shooter was a 19-year-old white man who used a legally purchased AR-15 assault rifle.

What motivated this man to commit this act of carnage is yet to be uncovered, but it seems very much like all the other gun-related massacres that have come before. The president’s immediate response was to call this a mental health issue, never mentioning the type of gun used or even the word “gun.”

Do we have more mentally deranged citizens in this country than elsewhere? Is there more “pure evil” here as House Speaker Paul Ryan called this current killing spree? Clearly, the point of these comments is to say that guns are not the problem.

Here’s an interesting fact: The U.S. has less than 5 percent of the world’s population but has about 50 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns. Could this have anything to do with this epidemic of gun violence?

Perhaps current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research on gun violence would help us formulate a plan to stop this carnage from happening again. But it turns out that research into the causes of gun injuries and deaths was defunded in 1996 when the Republican-controlled Congress passed the Dickey Amendment, because its members believed the CDC was promoting gun control.

One sure way to support the claim that guns are not the problem is to make sure there’s no research. After all, research might show that the millions of unregulated guns in the hands of pretty much anybody who wants one might be the source of the problem, and reasonable gun-control legislation might be the solution.

But if you are a politician whose donors are making a fortune from the sale of all those guns, you’re going to make sure that research never happens.

Let’s be clear, people are dying every day, and greed is the reason. This is a money issue, not a constitutional one. The star of the gun industry, the National Rifle Association, spends millions of dollars to support the election of public officials who will then make sure that the guns keep flowing. And they spend millions more to scare and convince people that we must have more guns.

And why? To protect us from everything: the dark, secret government, the “menacing” immigrants, the gangs, the mentally ill, and, of course, from everyone else with a gun.

The 19-year-old Parkland shooter isn’t even old enough to legally drink or buy alcohol, but he purchased an assault weapon legally, no questions asked. Don’t tell me there is nothing we can do to stop that from happening.

After every one of these horrific acts of gun violence, we think that this shooting will be the one to finally force our lawmakers to act. But, no, nothing ever happens to stop the next shooting and there will be a next, this much we know.

But, maybe this time will be different. I say this because something surprising is happening in Parkland. The students who survived, though grieving and traumatized, are angry that nothing has been done that would have stopped this tragedy from happening in their school.

They’re angry at their elected officials, the ones who have protected the gun industry at their expense. They’re naming names and calling them out — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Rick Scott, for a start.

Many of those students will not be old enough to vote this year, but that hasn’t stopped them from speaking out and organizing. They are writing op-eds, giving interviews, holding rallies, making speeches, planning student walkouts, and inspiring the adults in their lives and elsewhere to do the same. There is now a march planned for Washington, D.C., appropriately named “March for Our Lives,” on March 24.

Their actions are having an effect. The president felt the need to host a listening session with several survivors of the shooting along with the parents of some of the victims. This, by itself, is a victory, but not a day later the president was pushing a dangerous NRA-inspired plan to arm the nation’s teachers as a solution to school shootings.

On that same day, we learned that the armed sheriff’s deputy who was stationed on the school grounds and knew what was happening did not intervene to save a single life. A gun in this trained officer’s hand did nothing to stop the carnage. Would one in the hand of a teacher do any better?

The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre lashed out at this growing movement for common-sense gun reform led by the survivors of the Parkland shooting, saying that it is an attempt to “eradicate all individual freedoms.” What is he talking about? These students and their supporters are just asking for the freedom to not be shot in school or anywhere else.

Hard as this is for them, the young people who are leading the charge for change are crying out for us to hear them, to stand up with them and say, “enough is enough.” We don’t have to accept the nonsense that guns are not the problem.

We can vote out those politicians who continue to do the bidding of the NRA and replace them with people of conscience who will work to protect our children and ourselves from this plague of gun violence.

Karen Gardner, of Haydenville, a retired computer programmer, is a bird watcher, nature photographer and ukulele player. She can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.