Glimmer of hope in darkness of gun-mad US
Rational gun control in America has seemed a lost cause for a long time. But perhaps that might now start to change.
One sign of hope is that school children, the most obvious victims of lax gun control laws, have started to stand up and protest.
Survivors from the Florida High School where 17 died in the latest massacre are asking a powerful political question of their elders. How can you keep letting this happen?
The young people have organised a huge national rally and the movement is building, encouraged by powerful figures such as Barack Obama and actor George Clooney. The power of the young is real and it’s unpredictable.
It was an important part of the rise of Obama from senatorial obscurity to the presidency. It proved a potent part of the unexpected popularity of Bernie Sanders in the contest for the Democratic presidential candidacy.
At the other end of the spectrum, the increasing shrillness of the National Rifle Association, the lobby group that till now seemed to have a stranglehold on American politics, might prove counterproductive. NRA head Wayne LaPierre said "socialists" were pushing for gun control and if they got it "our American freedoms could be lost and our country will be changed forever."
This is plainly silly, but its very irrationality might be a sign that the NRA is rattled by the new student uprising.
There are also at least some signs that people power is starting to challenge the grip of the NRA over politicians. Florida Senator Marco Rubio was booed at a meeting called to discuss the slaughter in his home state. He was directly challenged over his open support for the NRA and the fact that he took money from it.
And then there is Donald Trump’s characteristically unsteady reaction to the massacre. He has ordered action against bump stocks, and has also talked about raising the age for gun ownership, and improving background checks.
While this sounds promising, his tweets in favour of the "great Americans" of the NRA do not. Trump is ideologically incoherent and nobody can predict what policies he will actually pursue.
A man who has to remind himself in a written note to show empathy with the grieving families is not a reliable politician. But perhaps Trump, whose ear for political advantage is sometimes acute, senses that the ground is shifting in the politics of gun control. Nobody can be optimistic that sanity is about to break out in the arena. But it’s important not to overestimate the irrational streak in US politics. Trump did not win a majority of votes at the last general election; Hillary Clinton did. A system which allows the mentally ill or a troubled 17-year-old to get his hands on an assault rifle is clearly flawed and murderously dangerous