Glim­mer of hope in dark­ness of gun-mad US

Marlborough Express - - COMMENT&OPINION -

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

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