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Bob Wakeham: These are school zones, not war zones

Students head back to school at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Feb. 28. With a heavy police presence, classes resumed for the first time since several students and teachers were killed by a former student on Feb. 14. — Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP
Students head back to school at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Feb. 28. With a heavy police presence, classes resumed for the first time since several students and teachers were killed by a former student on Feb. 14. — Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP

Anyone who’s paid even cursory attention to these weekly scribbles of mine in The Telegram over the years would be aware of the very direct links I have to the United States, connections that make it impossible for me to view the events in that part of the world with any sort of emotional detachment.

Bob Wakeham
Bob Wakeham

 

Besides the fact that our family’s migration to the States from Newfoundland in the early ’60s meant I attended high school in New Jersey — as a traumatically introverted little Newf, and scrambled to university classes in North Dakota and Colorado (occasionally smelling like a brewery or a small cannabis operation), striking up wonderful friendships along the way, I still have siblings living in that strikingly divisive country, and a handful of nephews and nieces attending school there; my obsessiveness with the U.S. is perfectly understandable.

Thus, when that horrific shooting took place in Florida the week before last, I just didn’t react as the world did with horror and anger; I also couldn’t help but think specifically of my nephew in Grade 12 — in his “senior” year, as the Americans label the last year of high school — or my niece in her third year of college, or a grandnephew just starting school this year, and wonder about their physical well-being, their safety, in American classrooms.

And it’s not some melodramatic turn, or a convenient topic for a column; a mass shooting occurs in the United States with frightening regularity, and the innocence and vulnerability of school grounds often make for ideal target areas for a perverted jerk armed with a weapon that should only be in the hands of soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan or some other unfortunate war zone.

So, yes, I worry about the welfare of loved ones in the States.

I also couldn’t help but think specifically of my nephew in Grade 12 — in his “senior” year, as the Americans label the last year of high school — or my niece in her third year of college, or a grandnephew just starting school this year, and wonder about their physical well-being, their safety, in American classrooms.

And my cold shivers are exacerbated when I hear the American politicians react to the latest slaughter of their constituents with phony promises to do whatever it takes to ensure there will be no repeat of whatever shootings of students or music festival fans or bar patrons that has just taken place.

More strident background checks on those trying to buy a gun, increasing the age for gun ownership, making sure the mentally ill don’t have access to guns, and so forth, American leaders stumbling along in reaction to one shooting after another, Republicans and Democrats alike, one administration after another, etc., intimidated by the powerful National Rifle Association, a bunch of loony-tuned rednecks exploiting a constitutional amendment put in place when Americans were carrying muskets. Somehow, that ancient right has been turned inside out to argue that every American should be permitted, if he or she so wishes, to own a weapon that can tear a human body to shreds (one of the youngsters killed in Florida was hit nine times).

And it certainly doesn’t help matters, to say the least, when the country’s leader, Donald Trump, is a wacko reactionary with the moral compass of a feral cat (that’s probably an insult to feral cats everywhere), the attention span of a nipper, and the reactive traits of a 10 year old (again, an insult on my part to 10 year olds), and declares, as his primary solution, that selected teachers in schools throughout the U.S. be trained to carry guns, a suggestion that must have left level-headed educators wondering whether to laugh or cry, in derision or anger or outrage. (Teachers here in Newfoundland, as well, must have thanked their lucky stars that they’re not living in a country where its president actually believes it makes sense to turn a classroom into a “Dirty Harry” environment, that there’s nothing inane about the idea of a Grade 6 teacher replacing her math book with a pistol and facing down a psychopath armed with an AR-15 automatic rifle: “Make my day, punk!”).

It must also be disheartening, at least to those who have not swallowed the Trump Kool-Aid, to hear the American president exploit the latest slaughter by suggesting the FBI screwed up (as it obviously did) because it was spending too much time on the Russian collusion investigation.

Or perhaps the Americans, and the world, are actually becoming desensitized to a man who issues daily, almost hourly, moronic statements from the White House, a racist slur here, a misogynistic crack there, or plays a game of nuclear chicken with a world leader as shallow and childlike as he is. And on and on it goes.

Perhaps we can be optimistic that Trump will be toppled by the Mueller investigation, that he is tossed out of office covered in disgrace with a legacy as the worst president in the history of the United States.

As for the aftermath of this latest mass shooting, maybe there’s a chance the movement by the high school students throughout the States to demand changes in their country’s gun laws will gain some traction, that politicians will actually hear their cries of protest.

I somehow doubt it.

In the meantime, I can only hope my relatives and friends in the States remain safe.

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com

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