Trump’s approval ratings have slumped by six per cent since mid-March, the sharpest drop in his presidency with 65 per cent of Americans saying he was too slow to respond to the threat of the coronavirus. His bizarre daily coronavirus press briefings have been abandoned, but his loyal base remains supportive and will guide his every move until the election.
This helps explain why the 2nd Amendment, the right to bear arms, was referenced in last week’s tweets from the White House where the President was inciting people to protest against stay-at-home orders and pushing his “reopen the country” message.
Organised by right-leaning fanatics in key Democratic states, these rallies were not spontaneous protests but an opportunity for the Trump base and backers to give notice of the violence, intimidation and mayhem that could lie ahead. Placards ranged from “I want a haircut” to “Jesus is my vaccine”.
The President’s tweets were alarming. “Liberate Michigan!” “Liberate Minnesota.” “Liberate Virginia and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” he tweeted, much of it in capital letters. The mention of the 2nd Amendment was chilling and deliberate.
America has a unique and deeply troubling relationship with guns. A ‘small arms survey’, in 2018, suggested there were nearly 390 million non-military guns in the country – more than one for every person.
Each year there are about 40,000 gun deaths, including homicides and suicides, with 14,000 murders, or 40 each day. America is awash with guns and the statistics are embarrassing.
A cycle of despair and death
The firearm-related death rate per 100,000 in the US is 11.96, compared with the UK figure of 0.23. Adjusted for population size, you are 51 times more likely to be killed by a gun in the US than the UK.
Worldwide, the US figure is only surpassed by Venezuela, Columbia, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. But as a high-income country, modern America is an extreme outlier in a universe of its own.
Gun violence has an even darker side. Despite being the home of liberty and the pursuit of happiness, America has the most mass shootings and school massacres in the world. America, especially its political establishment, lacks any sense of remorse in the face of the relentless killing of children and teachers, and is unwilling to take action against this firearm epidemic.
A predictable outcry ensues after every tragedy. But, numbed by the routine of more than 110 mass shootings since 1982, memories fade and anger eases until the next gun outrage. This cycle of despair and death is endless.
Gun violence anniversaries are commonplace. My visits to Denver, Colorado have helped tell the story of America’s gun madness. Going to the memorial for the 12 Columbine High school students and teacher massacred in 1999 was emotional. The sad, shocking and senseless nature of children being murdered was overwhelming and tinged with anger about a country that refuses to curb gun ownership, sheds meaningless tears after every mass shooting and does nothing to curb an industry doing incalculable damage to the image of America as a civilised country.
‘Right to bear arms’
In sharp contrast, a visit a few days before the 2016 presidential election to the Tanner Gun Show in Denver, one of the biggest in America, was frightening and dystopian. On display was an extraordinary range of violent weapons, including the infamous AK-47 that people were able to buy, as easy as shopping for groceries.
This was the other America, the core of the Trump base, hosting up to 5,000 gun shows every year and obsessed with protecting the “right to bear arms”. My Hillary Clinton button was well-hidden through-out the visit.
The Second Amendment, which was adopted in 1791, says: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." This short sentence is the cause of the grief the US is now experiencing.
America is attracted to the literal interpretation of many things, but this amendment is so divorced from modern-day reality. At that time, the state-wide police and security services which exist today were not in place and muskets were the main weapons available. It has little relevance to modern America.
But this ancient and largely irrelevant piece of mindless constitutionalism has endured with such force, because it has become a metaphor for freedom and liberty, the most overused words in America, and a warning to government to stay away, a symbol of independence.
Compliant and cowardly Congress
The US sees itself as a pioneering country of rugged individualism with a dislike of government, where the frontiersman mentality determines that you look after yourself and your family and where the fear of crime, not the reality, drives the need for personal security.
This is the cult of the individual doing battle on every front, trusting yourself and no one else. This is about identity and cultural overhang, where delusion, sentiment, nostalgia, and fear distort reality.
On guns, Capitol Hill is compliant and cowardly, across the partisan divide, but this is especially true of the Republican Party who are enthusiastic advocates of the 2nd Amendment and part of a toxic conspiracy involving the National Rifle Association (NRA) and gun manufacturers. Shameless levels of corruption and lobbying provide election finance and campaign donations.
The NRA is the main lobbying group exploiting the 2nd amendment in the name of freedom while preaching the primacy of guns in protecting individual liberty.
But other organisations are taking even more extreme positions. The Second Amendment Foundation, Jews for the Preservation of Firearms, Gun Owners of America, and the National Association for Gun Rights, and many more, are competing for support, status and membership, in a marketplace of unimaginable death and destruction.
Trump is a strong supporter of the NRA, and the gun lobby is part of the President’s re-election coalition. His tweets inciting the mob to protest are dangerous, but spreading unfounded fears about removing the right to bear arms is potentially incendiary.
The prospect of gun violence and public disorder was strengthened this month, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation released figures for March showing that in response to the coronavirus pandemic, there have been 3.7 million requests for firearms background checks: the highest monthly figure since the process was installed 22 years ago.
The US is unwilling to act against guns. But there is no justification for the President to link the coronavirus outbreak to the “right to bear arms”, and exploit the fears of millions of supporters as a campaign ploy. As the election looms, parts of Trump’s America are powder kegs.
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