When a gunman rampaged through a high school in Parkland, Florida, three weeks ago, a 15-year-old soccer player named Anthony Borges showed undaunted courage.
Anthony, who is of Venezuelan descent, apparently was the last of a group of students rushing into a classroom to seek refuge. He shut the door behind him and frantically tried to lock it, but in an instant the gunman appeared on the other side. Instead of running for cover, Anthony blocked the door to keep the shooter out. He held his ground even as the attacker opened fire.
“I asked him why he would do that,” his lawyer, Alex Arreaza, told me. “He said, ‘What’s so hard to understand about what I did?' He had no issue with risking his life.”
Shot five times in the legs and torso, Anthony phoned his father to say that he had been wounded. He was rushed to a hospital and survived: Photos show him with wires and tubes snaking from him. He still can’t walk – it’s unclear if that is just temporary – but fellow students say he saved their lives. No one else in that classroom was shot.
The world turned upside down: Armed law enforcement officers dawdled outside during the shooting, but a 15-year-old kid without any weapon at all used himself as a human shield to protect his classmates. More broadly, the Florida high school students have argued maturely for sensible gun laws, while Florida state legislators have acted like frightened toddlers, first passing a two-year moratorium on sales of AR-15 rifles and then undoing it 15 minutes later.
And now it seems that the grown-up world is again going to fail Anthony and other young Americans. Congress and President Donald Trump have stalled on a push to pass meaningful gun legislation that has overwhelming public support. The grown-ups are once more loitering in a crisis, leaving kids to be shot.
Trump said that if he had been on the scene, he would have rushed into the building to confront the shooter. “I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon,” he said.
Really? Even though when he is armed with the power of the White House he still doesn’t have the guts to confront the NRA in a sustained way?
Given that gun owners largely trust Trump, he could hammer out a bipartisan deal for universal background checks – the single step that would make the most difference, one supported overwhelmingly even by gun owners – but the White House is AWOL on the issue.
Congress may pass “Fix NICS” legislation to improve the FBI database used to screen gun buyers, and maybe the federal government will ban “bump stocks.” But those are baby steps that probably won’t have a measurable impact on American mortality (right now, one American dies every 15 minutes from a gun, including murders, accidents and suicides).
Incredibly, Congress seems as likely to ease gun laws as to tighten them. One measure backed by Donald Trump Jr. would legalize silencers, which have been rigorously controlled since the 1930s. Advocates had the gall to call it the Hearing Protection Act.
“It’s about safety,” Trump Jr. explains in a video. “It’s about hearing protection. It’s a health issue, frankly, for me. Getting little kids in the game.” In fact, the unmuffled crack of a gunshot is a warning of danger and draws the police; silencers would be a gift to criminals.
Even worse, the NRA is pushing concealed-carry reciprocity, allowing people to carry concealed guns with them from places that permit them, like Alaska or Wyoming, to any other part of the country, regardless of local prohibitions.
This measure has already passed the House of Representatives, but attorneys general are fighting it. They warn that it would let a stalker, domestic abuser or suspected terrorist from a low-regulation state tote concealed weapons at will around the country.
All this is infuriating. But even if the federal government won’t pass meaningful new gun laws, states are doing so. Polls show that voters overwhelmingly favor universal background checks, a 21-year-old age restriction on buying firearms and a ban on high-capacity magazines.
Since the 1970s, the U.S. has engaged unintentionally in an international experiment, relaxing gun laws as the rest of the world has tightened access. Gun advocates argued that more guns would make us safer, but instead the U.S. now has 25 times the gun murder rate of other advanced countries.
Indeed, since 1970, more Americans have died of gun violence, including murders, suicides and accidents (1.4 million), than in all the wars in American history (1.3 million).
Whenever there is a mass shooting, there are inspiring individual stories like Anthony’s. But the larger picture is disgraceful: the president and congressional leaders dillydallying on the sidelines, sending “thoughts and prayers” and nothing else.
This will change only when politicians are more afraid of voters than of the NRA.
Contact Nicholas Kristof at Facebook.com/Kristof or Twitter.com/NickKristof.