The West Wing of the White House is where the office of the president of the United States is located, along with other executive offices. In the wake of the recent mass shooting at a high school in Florida, pundits have sarcastically suggested calling the official quarters of President Donald Trump The Wild, Wild West Wing.
The Florida shooting claimed the lives of 17 people, most of them students. Even more alarming is the fact that it was the 18th school mass shooting in 2018 alone or an average of 3 per week.
Trump’s solution to this seeming epidemic? Arm the teachers!!!
If Trump has his way, in addition to the teachers’ pedagogic responsibilities, they must also ride shotgun in school (in the old American West, providing security for the stagecoaches was called riding shotgun).
That would really be a retrogression to the wild, wild West romanticized in American folklore and immortalized by Hollywood and in TV action serials.
Sensible state and national leaders and the media have described Trump’s proposal as hare-brained. Like wanting to put out a fire by dousing it with gasoline. Not surprisingly, leaders of the National Rifle Association are all for it. They are, after all, one of the main reasons for the pervasive gun culture in the US, ostensibly in the name of protecting the second amendment right of American citizens to keep and bear arms.
America has more guns than people, according to statistics. Gun ownership was estimated at 352 million guns in 2013 vs. a population of 312 million, and projected to 357 million guns vs. a population of 324,459,463 in 2017. That’s more than any country in the world. While the US has only 4.4% of world population, it accounts for 42% of the world’s guns.
In one study (the figures vary by year), the US was shown to have 101 guns for every 100 population. In comparison, the Philippines was listed at 4.7 guns per 100. Of course, this surely does not include unregistered firearms, particularly those in the armories of private armies of politicians, not to mention the paltiks produced by the artisans in Danao, Cebu province.
The easy accessibility of firearms, including automatic weapons like the AR-15 used in the Florida killings, has been identified in most studies as the main reason for the frequency of mass shootings in the US and the horrific number of fatalities — not just in schools but in other public places (there were 55 killed in a mass shooting during a concert in Las Vegas in late 2017).
In a rather cold assessment of the killing epidemic, analysts point out that the proliferation of killings is not because America accounts for more crimes than other countries. There are simply more fatalities per incident because of the use of guns. According to them, using knives would result in fewer deaths — as if this is any comfort for the defenseless citizenry.
Because Britain and Australia experienced mass shootings in 1987 and 1996, respectively, the two countries instituted strict gun control laws and have not experienced the same grief as the US since then.
Trump, the NRA, and the Republicans who currently control both houses of Congress have borne the onus for the lack of strict gun control legislation. But even at the time that the Democrats were dominant on Capitol Hill and in the White, the best that President Barack Obama could do was to mandate that people with severe mental disabilities should be subjected to FBI background checks, thus making it difficult for them to buy guns.
It is said that the reason the Democrats backed off from more aggressive gun control measures was because they had just pushed through Obamacare and were eyeing immigration reform, and they were worried that the right-wing would get so aroused as to cost the Democrats the mid-term elections. In other words, both parties have been playing politics at the cost of the lives of citizens.
Disappointingly, the Democrats’ wasted opportunity to introduce gun control legislation happened just two years after the Virginia Tech massacre where a student killed 32 people and wounded 17. It was also the 10th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in which two young men killed 12 fellow students and one teacher and wounded 24.
Said one skeptical British journalist, Dan Hodges, about the triumph of the gun lobby in spite of the 2012 massacre of 20 students at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, “In retrospect, Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”
In his official statement following the Florida killings, Trump attributed the incident to mental illness. It was a mentally disturbed expelled student who had earlier shown signs of his homicidal tendencies but was not monitored by authorities. Nikolas Cruz, the shooter, had 10 guns in his possession, including the AR-15.
Yet Trump had just repealed the Obama-era initiative that precisely would have made it difficult for those with psychological problems like Cruz to have easy access to guns. Trump’s expression of concern for the victims and their families was, thus, an exercise in hypocrisy.
Concerning Trump’s proposal to arm school teachers, late night talk show hosts have echoed Trump’s allusion to mental disability and have unkindly suggested that it is he who has a mental problem.
In his message of condolence to the Florida shooting victims, Trump made no mention of gun controls, perhaps not wanting to upset the NRA.
However, he walked back a bit on his position, subsequently conceding the need for checking the criminal records of prospective gun buyers, the need to ban upgrading legal weapons into machine guns, and the need to raise to 21 (from 18) the minimum age for buying guns. Apparently the heat of public opinion, which has become increasingly in favor of more stringent gun controls, has caused Trump to tread more gingerly on the issue.
As of now, there are signs that both Republicans and Democrats may be less resistant to gun control legislation because of the militancy of the students in Florida, supported by high school students across the country. However, it is feared that this zeal may be short-lived.
And as long as the NRA and the pro-gun politicians keep their heads out of the line of sight, they will ultimately prevail, as in the past.
On the other hand, the proximity of the next mid-term elections, in which the students have vowed to campaign aggressively against candidates supporting the gun lobby, may put the fear of losing in the hearts of the politicians, especially the reelectionists. The Republicans have been having enough problems with Trump’s hijinks and are beginning to feel insecure, without the gun issue adding to their woes.
And that is not yet counting whatever Special Counsel Bob Mueller may spring on Trump and his campaign associates in the coming weeks or months.
Indeed, there appears to be no better time to push for gun controls than now. Hopefully, America’s youth will sustain their militancy and allow it to peak into the US version of the Philippines’ First Quarter Storm.
Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.