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Assault weapons Versus Thoughts and Prayers: a fair fight?
Illustration: Paul Duginski

Frankly, I am not enthused about writing this column today. Perhaps I am invaded by a malady that seems to afflict millions of people in this country: a feeling of impotence, accompanied by a deep frustration with the systemic violence that reigns around us.  

I have been a teacher, a father, a leader of young people, for many years. In all those roles, I have tried to make sense out of this world myself and then share my realizations with others.

In spite of feeling strong emotional or mental pressures at times, another feeling—a feeling of responsibility—has always prevailed. I rationalize that I am there, in that classroom, or in that rehearsal space (or in my house, writing this column) to help others to make sense of the apparently senseless. To try my best to give hope in the midst of an apparent chaos. To be a healer of deep wounds, such as those inflicted by racism, sexism and xenophobia.

I know that I am not alone in this healing task and I feel the company and the inspiration of other healers, alive or not. To paraphrase John Lennon: “You can say I’m a healer, but I’m not the only one.”

What concerns me now concerns many of us at this time. Last week, yet another incident of horrific violence took place in this country. This time, it was the turn for a Florida high school to suffer the consequences of a broken and violent system. Seventeen children were murdered by a former student, a young man who had been expelled from the school. Apparently, media reports named him a member of a White nationalist group, traffickers of homegrown terrorism.

The killer was armed with an AR-15, an assault rifle designed to kill people efficiently…and that was what happened. You could say the killer got his money’s worth.

The motives for the killings are being debated—in the regular media, in social media and in our daily conversations.  On the one hand, our very intellectually challenged president blamed the mental health of the assassin, but ignored the reason that most people would pick: the irresponsible and almost criminal proliferation of guns in this sick society.

Trump, someone whom many experts affirm is “a mental case” himself, someone who seems to thrive on creating discord instead of accord among us. He has actually made it easier for people with mental problems to have access to weapons.  [One of Trump’s first executive orders was to cancel an Obama-era regulation that connected Social Security data about recipients of mental health benefits to the National Criminal Background Check System.]

As president, most of his actions have been reactions against his predecessor. If Obama was for something, Trump is against it, acting like a petulant and entitled child—except that he is not a child, he is a dangerous semi-adult.

The reasons for Trump’s behavior and that of almost all representatives of the Republican party (…and I write “almost all” rather generously) has to do with the power of money and specifically the money that the National Rifle Association (NRA) gives to Congress. In the name of “freedom” and using the Second Amendment to the constitution as their shield, NRA lobbyists generously give money away to their lackeys in Congress, who dutifully keep on voting to make guns easy to buy.

Then, when a situation like last week’s massacre occurs, those same congress members do not hesitate to declare their “horror” with yet another “inexplicable tragedy,” and they instantly offer their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and to their grieving families. They also refuse to speak about the massacre, claiming that it is “too soon,” and that “to speak about gun legislation would politicize this tragic situation.”  

“Jane and I are terribly sad and praying for the victims,” or “Laura and I offer our thoughts,” etc., etc.

As many students who survived that tragedy chanted a few days ago,“Bullshit!”

I know that I am not advancing anything new. Nevertheless, I feel it is my duty to keep on pointing out the obvious: This country promotes violence. This country was founded upon violence and grew that way, helped by political banners that conveniently have always presented the “American way” as the “right way,” not just for this violent and hypocritical country, but for the whole world.

What can we do about all that? To begin with, I want to point out an interesting development: This time, the victims are fighting back. The children who were murdered in the Sandy Hook’s massacre a few years ago could not fight back. Their parents were not heard either.

But the children who survived in Florida the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have found their voices and their messages are fueled not just by outrage, but also by a newly discovered courage.

They sound intelligent, far more intelligent than their Senate representative, the infamous Marco Rubio, also bought by the NRA. Rubio, of course, only offered “thoughts and prayers.”

Then, let us not despair and let us keep on building the most accessible and perhaps the most useful weapon available to us: to create consciousness among our children. The road is long but we can travel it.

Story by: Carlos Barón