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Florida school shooting. The young people’s protests and the Church’s mobilization against weapons

In our interviews and during the funerals we gave a face to their families, to their miraculously saved classmates, to the courageous teachers who defended them. At the same time, questions on this umpteenth massacre, on gun control, on unsupervised sale of arms, on the mental illnesses of many killers continue hurting United States’ collective consciousness like thorns in the flesh, motivating unplanned protests throughout the Country

(Foto: AFP/SIR)

Seven days have gone by since the death of Carmen, Meadow, Peter, Nicholas, Christopher, Aaron, Luke, Alaina, Jamie, Martin, Alyssa, Helena, Scott, Joaquin, Cara, Gina e Alexander. The names of the students and teachers of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, killed by former student and classmate Nickolas Cruz, are recited daily on media outlets, at Mass and religious services, in street conversations, on protest banners. They are the prayer, the lay lament, the desperate cry, the banner of pride for whoever adds to these names the words: “never again.” Never again a school shooting. Never again bloodshed. In the past week we came to know the wishes, the expectations, the lives, the last heroic gestures of these people, before being gunned down by an AR-15 assault rifle.

During the interviews and during the funerals we gave a face to their families, to their schoolmates, miraculously safe, to the courageous teachers who defended them. At the same time, questions on this umpteenth massacre, on gun control, on unsupervised sale of arms, on the mental illnesses of many killers, continue hurting United States’ collective consciousness like thorns in the flesh, motivating unplanned protests throughout the Country. Demonstrations are led by teen-agers, the schoolmates of the victims, and by students of dozens of schools who convened in public parks and venues, holding vigils and assemblies. They lit candles, signed petitions. On March 24 they organized a March on Washington, modelled on the march of Martin Luther King, demanding that

“to demand that their lives and safety become a priority and that we end gun violence and mass shootings in our schools today.”

In the meantime on Wednesday February 21st, they convened for a commemorative flash mob, in front of the seat of Florida’s Governor and in front of the White House, while a group of survivors of the shooting of February 14 met President Trump with some of the victims’ parents asking him to change the law and guarantee security to them. “You have to find a solution – said the father of one of the students – I am here to give a voice to my daughter, for she no longer has a voice.” In his speech, after the protests against what was deemed a weak condemnation of the incident, Trump suggested that teachers should be armed with guns and promised improving background checks and identifying mental health issues of gun buyers. In the meantime the US President had asked the attorney general to review regulations on assault rifles, but it remains an advisory opinion. Trump and Florida’s Governor declined the invitation to join the public debate held at the BB&T Center of Sunrise, broadcast live by CNN. The students, the parents of the victims and the teachers voiced their criticism, their blunt, unpopular questions  to Republican Senator Marco Rubio, to Sen. Bill Nelson and Congressman Ted Deutch (Democratic Party), to Dana Loesch, spokesperson for the National Rifle Association (NRA), the powerful weapons lobby, and to the county Sheriff Scott Israel.

The victims’ siblings and parents were the first to take the floor. Fred Guttenberg, Father of Jamie, slammed Rubio for his and the government’s weak stances. He told the Governor not to sit on laurels and outlaw semiautomatic weapons, which are the “real problem.” The Republican Senator tried to explain that the problem isn’t only that gun but over 2,000 other types of guns that are “sold despite the bans.” His words were met by the anger and boos of students and parents who demanded concrete commitments especially when these claims were voiced by Cameron Kasky, one of the survivors of the school shooting who urged Rubio to renounce NRA funding, which according to journalistic investigations amount to three million dollars. Also in this case the lobby’s support is hard to justify, and despite the other Senators tried to quiet the troubled waters, the match was played by the only government representative present and by the audience, determined to ensure a new course. Their determination is such that at the end of the evening Rubio said he would support laws barring those 18 and under from buying rifles, support enforcing controls on the mental state of the buyers and reconsider his support to magazines specialised in the sale of firearms. Dana Loesch faced harsh criticism. In different ways she reiterated the need to step up security checks and in schools, and ensure thorough check-ups to people affected my mental disorders. “This does not mean supporting what the students ask us, that is, less weapons”, said sheriff Scott Israel, who then invited the students to decide on the country’s future at the polls, in the upcoming 2018 elections, voting candidates who reflect their values. “You can do it.”

The two-and-a-half-hour debate is expected to have relevant political repercussions, while there is great anticipation over the debate in Congress coming Monday, whose first item on agenda is

The requests of students from a suburban County who having experienced a personal tragedy brought to the fore the fragility of a system that is cloaked in a Constitutional Amendment, failing to address the thorny aspects of this problem.

In fact 14 years have passed since the expiry of the Assault Weapons Ban and nothing was done to change the regulations even when each of the major political parties held a majority in Senate and Congress. However, the political standstill did not involve the market, which registers the circulation of 310 million firearms, on a population of 326 million people.

 US Church leaders join the mobilization. US Cardinals and Bishops conveyed their positions on the website of the respective dioceses and on social media, stressing the responsibilities of lawmakers in the prevention of mass shootings. “Let us make it clear to our elected officials that the weapons and ammunition that facilitate this carnage have no place in our culture,” said the Cardinal of Chicago, Blase Cupich. The Cardinal of Boston Seán O’Malley  wrote in a tweet: “Our thoughts and prayers must be united in action, we can and we must do more to prevent these attacks.” For American Magazine, the Jesuits’ review, the Church can accompany with concrete logistic support, not only by mobilizing for action the over 1700 parishes, many of which are located near the sites of mass shootings, but also by directing medical and scientific research to address the consequences in terms of victims and costs of the horrific mass shootings violence. This week’s issue of The Atlantic political magazine revealed that in 1996 the NRA supported a law limiting federal funding to research on weapons and on the number of murders, suicides and accidental shootings caused by the possession of firearms. In this respect the Jesuits  magazine urged “all 600 Catholic hospitals located across the Country to devote funding to independent research to collect concrete evidence on the causes and consequences of violence. The Catholic Health Association, which represents these institutions, has been vocal in its support for addressing gun violence and understanding the causes and the victims of this escalation of conflicts.”

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