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Florida killings: American carnage

The Irish Times View

Trump and Republicans impotently focus their attention on everything except the blindingly obvious root of the problem: guns

Emotions run high as thousands gather for a candlelight vigil after the Florida school shooting. Video: Reuters

Students react following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a city about 80 kilometers north of Miami, on Wednesday. Photograph: Michele Eve Sandberg/AFP/Getty Images

It’s a grisly sequence that now seems unsettlingly familiar. On Wednesday afternoon, a 19-year-old armed with a semi-automatic rifle marched into his former school in a Florida town and opened fire. Students and teachers scurried for cover as shots rang out in the hallways and classrooms. Video footage shows the bodies of children, inert and surrounded by pools of blood, as their classmates scream in terror.

Seventeen people were killed in the latest atrocity, making it the deadliest school or university shooting in the US since the Sandy Hook massacre of 2012, when a 20-year-old man killed 20 children and six adults before taking his own life. Mass killings have become a feature of American daily life. The rampage at Parkland, north of Miami, this week was the seventh school shooting incident causing death or injury in the country so far this year, and it’s not even mid-February.

At moments like this, the United States needs leadership. Sadly, its president, Donald Trump, is a man who possesses neither the emotional wherewithal to comfort the bereaved nor the courage to take steps that would save others from dying in the same senseless way. Like him, Congressional Republican leaders offer prayers and condolences while impotently focusing their attention on everything except the blindingly obvious root of the problem: guns.

Mass killings on this scale are a specifically American crisis. The country’s firearms homicide rate is far higher than elsewhere – 16 times the rate in Germany and six times that of Canada. Countries that ban or restrict access to guns, such as Australia, see a marked decline in fatalities. In no developed country is it as easy for citizens to purchase weaponry capable of large-scale killing. In no developed country is the ruling elite more subservient to the industry that makes such massive profits from the spread of arms.

“The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end. Beginning on January 20th 2017, safety will be restored,” Trump declared at the Republican National Convention in July 2016. When he took power, he promised an end to the “American carnage”. In fact, his actions have made the crisis of gun violence worse. In his first weeks in power, Trump, whose campaign received $30 million from the National Rifle Association, moved to reverse Obama-era regulations that sought to make it harder for people with records of mental illness to acquire guns. Last April, he became the first sitting president to address the NRA itself.

Meanwhile, people are being shot dead in greater numbers. Some 11,686 gun deaths were recorded in 2017, an increase of 12 per cent on 2016, including 273 in mass shootings. The mothers and fathers who must bury their children in Florida this week will know how seriously to take their president’s expressions of sympathy.