New York—Growing up in Argentina, I had an English teacher named Sarah, a kind and knowledgeable woman. Reading one of my papers, in which I called a character in the story “a despicable man,” she admonished me: “you shouldn’t use that word, César, it is too strong.” Now, decades later, I find that perhaps that word is not strong enough to describe the Florida legislators who overwhelmingly voted against a motion to consider legislation that would “ban assault rifles and large capacity magazines”. That this happened days after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida in which 17 people died makes this even more ludicrous.
The legislators’ move came as teenage survivors of the Florida massacre watched the proceedings from the gallery. That wasn’t an obstacle for the GOP-controlled Florida House, who showed no shame and no regret for their actions. And I couldn’t help but wonder: do these people have children? Do they have grandchildren? And if they do, how can they act that way? As Sheryl Acquaroli, a junior from Stoneman Douglas told CNN after the 36-71 party-line vote: “it seemed almost heartless how they immediately pushed the button to say no.”
Their behaviour, though, is far from unique. Lawmakers at the national level toe the same line. Although they are mostly Republicans, some Democrats also show the same disregard for people’s lives and safety, even for their own children and colleagues. The sums involved in the NRA donations are staggering, by any standard. Millions of dollars are given to lawmakers to vote according to NRA dictates. And the legislators, lacking any sense of decency, follow them.
I look at a photograph of members of the Florida House, as they observe a moment of silence for the victims of massacre. I cannot help but think of the high degree of hypocrisy that it demonstrates. They feel sorry for the victims but are unable to do anything meaningful to control sales of guns in the country, now at an all-time level. An ad in The New York Times by two gun control advocacy groups shows a photo of students leaving their school in fear during the shooting and a quote from one of the survivors: “we’re children. You guys are the adults…get something done.”
They will not do what needs to be done to completely eradicate gun violence in the country. Too much money is at stake. And by now we all know that in the confrontation between money for political power and ethics, money always wins. That those who may become victims may be their own children doesn’t enter into their consciousness.
The following are the representatives that received most money from the NRA: John McCain (R, Arizona)—$7.74m; Richard Burr (R, North Carolina)—$6.99m; Roy Blunt (R, Missouri)—$4.55m; Thom Tillis (R, North Carolina)—$4.42m; Cory Gardner (R, Colorado)—$3.88m. That all of them should be Republicans shouldn’t surprise anybody now.
Alfonso Calderon, a MSDHS junior student, one of the survivors of the massacre and one of the leaders of the #NeverAgain movement, said at the Florida Capitol, “everybody should remember this, we are just children…we aren’t being taken seriously enough…but trust me, we understand. I was in a closet, locked, for four hours, with people whom I almost considered family crying and weeping and begging for their lives…I am extremely angry and sad. But I want everybody here to know that we will not be stopped, we will not be discouraged, we will not falter, and we will not stop this movement.”
As a society we have become oblivious to the suffering of others. That this lack of empathy is so clearly shown among those that are supposed to represent us is a sad commentary on the human condition.
Dr. César Chelala is an international public health consultant and writer. He is a winner of several journalism awards