Why US gun madness will be a key election issue for Donald Trump – Henry McLeish

There are signs that Donald Trump’s failure to support calls for gun control amid ongoing school shootings could become an important election issue, writes Henry McLeish.

A California Highway Patrol officer escorts pupils out of Saugus High School after a shooting on the campus in Santa Clarita, California (Picture: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

On Thursday, the United States will enjoy Thanksgiving. A time to celebrate the harvest and the blessings of previous years which was started by Protestant pilgrims from the UK in the 16th century. This year Americans may also want to reflect on another school shooting which hit the headlines on 12 November and side-lined, at least for a few hours, Trump, impeachment and the struggle to become the Democratic presidential nominee.

This senseless slaughter of school children took place at Saugus High School, Santa Clarita, California, where two children were killed, three were injured and after trying to kill himself, the 16-year-old shooter died in hospital.

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More significantly for America’s collective conscience, there has been a school massacre each month in 2019. In the US overall, there have been over 350 mass shootings in the first 11 months of 2019, according to data from the non-profit Violence Archive.

The world is left asking whether or not the US will ever take responsibility for what is a uniquely American phenomenon and act to stop the senseless slaughter of children in high schools and college campuses, tackle an incredible gun culture and bring to an end the obscenity of a country having more guns in civilian use than there are people living there, at over 320 million. This could be described as a war against children that Americans are unwilling to take seriously.

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What if Scotland had over five million guns in private hands and a school shooting every few months? Of course, we wouldn’t allow this. Dunblane happened and an outraged country responded. But this is happening every month in “modern” America and yet there is no serious response.

The US is a country consumed by a complex set of political, cultural and social issues. The Congress is impotent. Despite two new gun laws being passed by the Democratically controlled House of Representatives after their victory in 2018, the Senate, controlled by the Republicans, has continued to block and stall every measure, including those intended to stop mentally ill people obtaining weapons, banning military-style automatic rifles and instituting comprehensive background checks, especially on internet purchases.

3D-printed guns

Trump, and his base, have been unmoved by the scale of school shootings. After shedding some manufactured tears last yeaer over the Florida school killings and promising to stand up to the National Rifle Association (NRA), the powerful lobby group, the President is now an even bigger supporter of the infamous second amendment. A federal judge even struck down a decision by the Trump administration to allow blueprints for 3D-printed guns to be shared online!

Replacing Trump is critical if progress is to be made on tackling gun madness in the US, but elections to the Senate, governorships and state legislatures also provide opportunities to bring some sanity to a gun debate which is diminishing America in the eyes of Western democracies.

The Republican Party in the Congress is paralysed by its fear of Trump and it lacks the courage to break free from ultra-conservatism and the constitutional straight jacket that turns a freedom to bear arms into a license to kill innocent children.

Because it would offend too many special-interest groups and cut off financial contributions, the Republican Party is not interested.

Over the last two years, there have been some encouraging signs that change may be possible, but it is too early to be over optimistic.

Culture, identity, dignity and respect dominate the political debate and the minds of those who seek to defend the indefensible. Guns have become a metaphor or symbol of freedom, a dislike of government, an exceptional mistrust of the federal government and a jealous safeguarding of state rights.

Wall Street distancing itself from gun firms

And all of this is wrapped around a deep, difficult and an often delusional interpretation of history, comprising the founding fathers, the US constitution, the Bill of rights, guns, God, the free market, rugged individualism and the “land of the free and the home of the brave”, providing a powerful set of barriers to any change in gun laws.

Public opinion is, however, changing. Polls show increasing public support for background checks, controls on the use of automatic military weapons, such as the AR-15 and a clampdown on internet sales which are largely unregulated.

Gun manufacturers are also feeling the pressure. Smith and Wesson, famous for its connections with ‘rugged individualism’ and the battlefields of the Civil War, is in the firing line. It is now having to defend itself as a result of its weapons being used in school killings. Sales have fallen dramatically since 2017, and the company has acknowledged that the political climate has become hostile.

Another iconic name, Colt, has suspended production of sporting rifles like the infamous AR-15. Adding to the woes of manufacturers, Wall Street is also trying to distance itself from gun manufacturers with finance companies stopping lending to those who make “military-inspired firearms for civilian use”. Walmart has also agreed to stop selling ammunition for military-style assault weapons. These concessions may seem insignificant against the scale of the gun crisis in the US, but measured against decades of inactivity, many new fronts are opening up in the battle against American gun madness.

After the killings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, young people have become very vocal and active. Campaigning is changing the public mood. Their demonstration, on Capitol Hill in March, really impacted on the public mood and has since led to campaigns throughout the US against the deaths of innocent children and the corrupt relationship between politics and lobbying in Washington DC. Public anger is now driving the agenda and the gun lobby is, for the first time, looking anxiously at a country increasingly uneasy with the idea of school children being killed.

The victims and families of school shootings are also piling on the pressure in the courts by suing retailers and gunmakers to make them accountable for their actions. In a recent Supreme Court case, families of shooting families were given permission to move forward with a lawsuit against Remington Arms, makers of the rifle used in the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

Guns will be an important election issue in 2020. The battle against gun madness in America is heating up. This may be the time for America to remember and respect their dead school children and demand change.