Guns, a nun, and free speech by Luis H. Francia


—Last April 20th was the anniversary of the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, in which a dozen people were gunned down. In what was billed as National School Walkout, thousands of students from more than 2,600 high schools across the country walked out of their classes to mark that anniversary.

In Manhattan, high school students from the city as well as New Jersey and Connecticut congregated at Washington Square Park to voice their anger and frustration at the lack of common-sense gun laws. They described practicing school drills and lockdowns since kindergarten for what they should not have to prepare for: a mass shooting. As if to underscore the importance of their worries, two days after, a 29-year-old man with an assault rifle, the AR-15, shot four people dead at a restaurant in Tennessee. The victims were blacks, suggesting that this was a hate crime.

This movement has grown out of the February mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, where 17 people were gunned down by a killer with an AR-15—the weapon of choice in the vast majority of these shootings. Spearheaded by the high school students themselves, the movement has had it with the ineffective declaration that public officials routinely issue, that their “thoughts and prayers” go to the families of the victims. One visualizes how these public officials quake in their boots at the thought of possibly offending the National Rifle Association.

If there is any indication that common sense is in short supply where the availability of firearms is concerned, one need look no further than the usual, hysterical reaction that placing restrictions on the purchase and possession of guns elicits: that this is a direct assault on the Second Amendment, the right-to-bear arms provision in the Constitution and could lead to its abolition. That is tantamount to making the idiotic argument that requiring a license to operate a motor vehicle is to negate a person’s right to own and drive a car.

Another argument by the gun lobby: people kill people, not guns. Who would have thought that someone’s finger was needed on that trigger? A person can murder by strangulation or with a knife, but does anyone seriously think that the Boston Strangler could have strangled 17 people in a few minutes? And what justification could there possibly be for allowing the sale of military-grade rifles to the public?

In yet another manifestation of President Rodrigo Duterte’s misogyny and unhinged take on free speech, he admitted having ordered the Bureau of Immigration to arrest Australian nun Patricia Fox for “disorderly conduct.” It led to her temporary detention at the Bureau’s head office. Fox, a 20-year resident of the Philippines and a member of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, is known for her work among the marginalized — the very ones who bear the brunt of the administration’s brutal war on drugs. Apparently, her participation in rallies for the release of political prisoners drew Duterte’s ire. He said meddling by foreigners in the country’s domestic affairs would be “a violation of sovereignty.” A compliment to the 71-year-old nun, hardly a household name, and a sorry assessment of the nation’s strength.

Duterte said that “Freedom of expression is unlimited and it goes for everybody.” Really? That would be a surprise to all those who have been quite critical of his governance, particularly if they happen to be women. His actions belie what is so clearly implied in his statement, that free speech is a universal right. In a long rant, he segues into claiming that, at least in the Philippines, “Eh buti dito kriminal ang pinapatay ko” (“Good thing, here I kill criminals”). Now if that claim isn’t an assault on the country’s constitution and integrity, I don’t know what is.

Updated: 05/28/2018 — 06:56:14
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