After the Parkland massacre, a segment of America’s youth is rising up against the United States’ very liberal gun laws. Is this a classic emotional reaction or a more profound phenomenon, a sign of a changing culture? The latter is not the most probable hypothesis.
“Never Again.” In the aftermath of the massacre that killed 17 people in a Parkland, Florida, high school, many young Americans continue to tenaciously express their distress and their anger. Could it be they are just the contemporary version of those World War I veterans, who also declared “Never Again” in the wake of the deadliest conflict in history? Twenty years later, the world plunged back into terror.
“Never Again.” Should this formula incite pessimism, considering its relative effectiveness not long ago? Or are there events, which due to their enormity or merely their repetition transform our connection to reality? Can they make what yesterday seemed like an almost unstoppable cultural inevitability into a mere series of obstacles to be conquered? Will the multiplying massacres begin to act on Americans’ conscience, a process of erosion much like waves on sand dunes?
In the aftermath of the 2012 Newtown massacre, during which 20 young children in an elementary school became victims of a crazed killer, many commentators – including the author of these very words – had believed, naively, that the Rubicon of horror had been crossed. That after Newtown, most Americans, confronted with the consequences of a foolishly lax gun law, would finally “wake up.” That they would implement simple, common sense steps to protect the lives of their children, if not those of their fellow adult citizens. But nothing came of it. The Newtown massacre instead brought proof that a determined minority, well-organized behind the powerful National Rifle Association lobby and sheltered behind an absurd logic (“Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People”) could recklessly obstruct the majority of Americans.
Today, it is as if this oppressive minority didn’t see any contradiction in giving absolute priority to the life of a fetus in its mother’s womb while ignoring the fate of children playing in a nursery school. In the aftermath of the Parkland tragedy, a deliberately provocative slogan is making the rounds on social media: “Let’s rename ‘school’ as ‘uterus’ so maybe Republican lawmakers will want to do something about the children dying inside them.”
Indeed, the statistics are frightening. Since 1968, more than 1.5 million Americans have been the victims of firearms, which is larger than the number of all Americans killed during external conflicts from the republic’s birth in 1776 until today. Even the American Civil War from 1861 to 1866* only had around 700,000 victims.
Modernizing infrastructure is a laudable ambition. Victims of its hasty industrialization, the United States has fallen considerably behind several Asian countries, which departed much later on the race to modernity. Donald Trump, as others before him, highlights the risk of a collapsing bridge or a railway tragedy linked to worn-out infrastructure. But if the objective is to save human lives, it is the laws that must change, not just the bridges. Aren’t these “daily massacres” in fact the equivalent of an indefinite civil war of lesser intensity? Recently surveyed by the magazine Foreign Policy, 35 percent of Americans said they were afraid of the risks of a civil war in their country. It is as if the division on the issue of firearms was the prophetic sign of the evolution of a society at war with itself.
There are, however, positive and concrete signs of evolution in public opinion. In the aftermath of the Parkland massacre, 75 percent of Americans say they are now in favor of reforming gun laws.
Feeling the evolution of public opinion, several businesses are beginning to distance themselves from the NRA. Money is the weapon that contributed decisively to Al Capone’s fall in America in the 1930s. Will the call to boycott corporations that continue to support the NRA convince conservative representatives that, not only is their conscience in danger, but also their chances of re-election?
In his anti-ideologist pragmatism, Trump is beginning to distance himself from an organization that greatly contributed to his campaign’s success. It seems that he has understood that the young people who are about to hold a massive protest in Washington and several other cities can convince other young people – a little older than themselves – to vote in great numbers during the midterm elections in November 2018.
Facing the radicalism and the evidence of evil, America’s youth can lead a crusade for life and common sense. The path will be long and rife with difficulties. In the best of scenarios, this path will translate into a series of little victories that will first begin with strengthened control over the sale of automatic weapons as well as the age and mental health of buyers. Handguns alone may be responsible for the majority of victims. But it is automatic weapons – which in their formidable efficacy are much like weapons of war – that produce “mass killings” like those that strike grade schoolers, high schoolers and students.
One can oppose the diktats of a lobby. But changing a culture or the mentality of its people can only happen gradually. America will remain a violent and dangerous country.
*Editor’s note: The actual dates of the American Civil War are April 12, 1861 to May 13, 1865.