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Friday 21 September 2018
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An American tragedy

AMERICA HAS, once more, been plunged into mourning with yet another mass shooting. But instead of triggering a mature debate over the need for better gun control, the Parkland, Florida, tragedy has showed up deep divisions and yielded little signs of any plans for concrete reform.

The killing of 17 people by Nikolas Cruz, 19, at Parkland, Florida, was the deadliest shooting at a school since 2012, when 20 children were shot dead at Sandy Hook Elementary — the deadliest school shooting in US history. Sadly, 97 children have been killed and 126 injured in mass shootings in US schools since 1989.

Despite such an unrelenting onslaught, American politics has been unable to make meaningful headway on gun control. US President Donald Trump’s response to the latest incident has been disappointing.

While one would be forgiven for expecting mediocrity from the current occupant of the Oval Office, Trump’s obdurate position that the shooting was not a matter of gun control and more a question of dealing with mental health is still startling, offensive and painful for anyone who has been the victim of a gun crime. It is precisely because Cruz has mental health issues that he should have been denied a gun in the first place.

But even amid tragedy and the dismal political response there are small areas of hope. There have been reports of tremendous acts of courage.

Survivors have recounted the actions of a football coach, Aaron Feis, who shielded pupils from the onslaught of bullets with his own body. And a 17-year old student, Colton Haab, pulled 90 fellow pupils from a hallway into a classroom which he barricaded.

“I was going to stop him with everything I had or die trying,” Haab said when interviewed afterwards.

The FBI had been informed last September that the shooter had stated on social media that he desired to become a “professional school shooter.”

Questions must be asked as to how a teenager with serious mental health issues and a known sadistic streak was able to buy a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle. The shooter was too young to buy beer, yet he could purchase a gun.

US citizens must come to terms with the fact that their Second Amendment right to bear arms is literally backfiring.

The question is not of abolition of this right but of the tightening of controls in obvious areas. The ready availability of guns also has a knock-on effect when it comes to illicit trade internationally.

For the sake of its people and its allies, the US cannot afford to ignore this problem any longer.

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