Susan Dalgety: On Memorial Day, the US forgets its fallen children

Donald Trump and the NRA should tremble in their cowboy boots, because America's blindness to school shootings is set to be challenged amid the rise of women in politics, writes Susan Dalgety.

Patrick McCallister, a Vietnam War era army veteran, places flags on the graves of veterans at the Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh ahead of Memorial Day (Picture: AP)

It is Memorial Day weekend in the States, an annual event when the nation remembers all those who have died in battle.

On Monday, across the county, the Stars and Stripes will fly at half-mast until noon, when they are raised high again. There will be a Memorial Day concert at the US Capitol, and at three in the afternoon, the country will fall silent as it pays respect to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

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Only this year, perhaps other victims of war will be remembered, not just the 58,000 Americans who died in the Vietnam War, or the 13 members of the US military who have been killed so far this year while on deployment.

NEWTOWN, CT - DECEMBER 20: Boy scouts salute as a funeral procession for Benjamin Wheeler, 6, enters the Trinity Episcopal Church on December 20, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. Benjamin, a member of Tiger Scout Den 6, was killed when 20 children and six adults were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

But perhaps – hopefully – the country will also say a silent prayer for the 27 children slaughtered this year while they sat at their school desks. The Sante Fe High School shooting, where nine students and one teacher were murdered in cold blood by a fellow student running amok with his father’s gun, is the latest tragedy to hit young America.

The response to this carnage is far more muted than the aftermath of the Parkland massacre.

There are no student survivors organising marches on the Capitol, and challenging senior politicians, live on television, to drop their association with the National Rifle Association.

There are no badges proclaiming #NeverAgain. No school walk outs. No palpable anger.

Only deep, gut-wrenching sadness as families come to terms with the loss of their children.

“I don’t want to upset anyone,” said Bree Butler, an 18-year-old senior at Sante Fe High.

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Last month her friends staged a school walkout in solidarity with their Parkland peers. “Our community needs time to heal,” she says now, as the first funerals of her classmates take place.

Sante Fe, in Texas, is a conservative, rural town, where guns are as much part of everyday life as barbecues and Walmart. In Texas, teachers can carry firearms on school premises, after passing a training course.

And in some parts of the Lone Star state, people have the right to openly carry handguns. Just like John Wayne – except this is real life, not the movies.

But it is not just in Texas where guns are an integral part of the culture. It is everywhere.

In Barnes and Noble, that most middle-class of bookstores, we found magazines extolling the virtue of assault rifles, like the one used to massacre 17 children at Parkland, on sale next to National Geographic and Homes and Gardens.

In every Walmart there is an aisle for ‘Gun Safety and Cleaning’, next to the ‘Gardens and Lawn’ section.

Even the fly swatters on sale in an upmarket Maryland camp site came in the shape of pistols. Why swat the beasts, when you can shoot ‘em up.

Guns are as much part of American life as peanut butter and their beloved flag.

“I have a friend, a registered Democrat, who owns an assault rifle,” explains Miguel over a curry. We are in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to catch up with friends we made while volunteering on Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential election campaign.

“I say to him, why do you need an assault rifle, you only use it for target practice. There is no skill in going, brrrr, brrrr, brrrr. A small kid could hit the target with one of those things. If you need to shoot, why not use a handgun? At least it requires skill.

“And do you know what he said? He said, ‘I like the assault rifle. I like the way it makes me feel. It is my right to have one.’

“I think it makes him feel like a man. But you don’t need a deadly weapon to be a man, surely?”

Sadly there are a lot of American blokes who seem to need a gun to make them feel like their distorted vision of a man.

Gang members in Baltimore who use guns instead of fists to decide neighbourhood disputes. Teenage sociopaths who use assault rifles to blow out the brains of their classmates, because the voices in their head told them to. Middle-aged men, like Miguel’s friend, who use assault rifles to make them feel alive. And because it is their constitutional right to bear arms.

Unlike Dunblane, where we as a nation said #NeverAgain, and changed the law to ban handguns, the tears of the mothers whose babies were slaughtered at Sandy Hook in 2012 did not have the power to move politicians in thrall to the second amendment and the NRA.

But there is a new wave coming in American politics. In November, the mid-term elections will select a new House of Representatives as well as other key positions across the country.

The Democrats are slated to win a majority in the House. But here’s the thing, it is women, many new to politics, who are winning the Democratic nominations.

Already women make up more than 40 per cent of the nominees, more than double that of the 2010 midterms when President Obama was in the White House.

And women are running for all levels of government, local, state and federal. Emily’s List, the campaign that supports women candidates, says 34,000 women have recently contacted them, interested in running for office. In the 2016 election cycle only 920 women got in touch.

Leading this new generation of women politicians is Stacey Abrams. On Tuesday she became the first black woman nominated for governor by a major political party. The first ever.

She is standing in Georgia, that most southern of states, and could well win come November.

“Now is the time to defend our values and protect the vulnerable – to stand in the gap and to lead the way,” she declared in a powerful speech after winning the nomination.

She supports gun control. And investment in mental health services. Her brother Walter, who is mentally ill, is currently serving time in prison. A family tragedy she does not hide.

Sitting in the White House, President Trump screams “WITCH HUNT” at his television, fearful of the special investigation.

Perhaps the man who boasts of grabbing “pussy” should be more scared of the women who are coming to Congress later this year. The gun lobby he admires so much should definitely be quaking in their cowboy boots.