America’s response to the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida has been appalling. My issue isn’t with the second amendment as such: there are aspects of every nation that seem a little alien to outsiders. But how can a mentally anguished 19-year-old get hold of a rifle, let alone an AR15 semi-automatic, and use it to murder 17 people?
To make matters worse, the name of Nikolas Cruz and his personal responsibility for this crime appear forgotten. From tragedy springs politics. I can’t judge any of the high school students who have become anti-gun activists for anything they’ve said about the need for gun control: they are grief-stricken and have every right to be angry. But should they be given a platform by the US media night after night to charge the gun lobby with complicity? The gun enthusiasts have given as good as they get. A ridiculous conspiracy theory suggested one of the survivors might be an actor. And an NRA spokeswoman said that the mainstream media “love” mass shootings because they’re good for ratings.
In the middle of it all stands Donald Trump, who has an ability – purposefully and involuntarily – to make everything about him. He courageously held a meeting with school parents and survivors of the shooting, something no British prime minister would have the guts to do, and asked them to speak while he listened. And that’s what happened, although you wouldn’t believe it from the media’s write-up of the event. They gave the impression that he sounded off about arming teachers.
He didn’t. Three separate speakers raised putting armed personnel in schools; it was only in response to their points that Trump said increased security might be a good idea. Two other members of the audience then agreed. Other speakers came out against it, and rightly so because it’s a completely barmy concept. But Trump also talked about better background checks and mental health treatment, and yet hardly any of this made it into the news coverage. It all fits a pattern: Trump does a good thing, the media twist it, then Trump violently goes on the defensive. And a moment of potential national progress descends, yet again, into partisan warfare.
Enough. If you listen to the quieter voices, what’s striking is that a consensus exists for the return of proper mental health facilities, keeping guns out of the hands of the insane and, most importantly, an age limit on gun ownership. And why not? Yes, the second amendment talks about the right to bear arms, but in a country where you have to be 21 to drink a beer, there’s absolutely no reason why purchasing guns cannot be age-limited or the kind of gun available restricted by law, which it already is to some degree. The US constitution talks not just of a “militia” but a “well-regulated” one. That’s why citizens cannot stroll into a bank with a bazooka.
One crucial aspect of America’s unwritten constitution has certainly gone missing: God. I think this was the most secular response to a shooting that I’ve ever seen. The rush to blame bypassed America’s usual round of “thoughts and prayers” entirely, as if it had assumed, post-Trump’s election, that no one, not even the Evangelicals, really believe that stuff anymore.
Well, a handful of us do. A mass shooting encapsulates both the fallen nature of man and his capacity for goodness. Witnesses report that football coach Aaron Feis ran towards the gunshots and threw himself in front his students. He took a bullet and died on the way to surgery. To those who say “Where was God in all of this?”, that’s the answer. God speaks through the Scriptures, through the Church and through the actions of man, calling out for radical self-sacrifice – not impotent rage.
Tim Stanley is a journalist, historian, and a Catholic Herald contributing editor
This article first appeared in the March 9 2018 issue of the Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here