When as many young people as this march in more than 800 cities across the USA surely the cultural changes needed to curb gun use in the USA will happen
The problem with politicians commenting on politics in other countries is that we are always accused of ‘not having enough to do’ on our own patch and not quite understanding what is going on in another culture. People don’t always recognise that the USA is another culture but we are a European culture, inside or outside the EU, and our social norms are very different from the ‘norms’ of mainstream America. A Country that allows huge disparities of wealth to make huge disparities in health and which supports almost unlimited gun use; the death penalty and does not recognise a ‘woman’s right to choose’ is very different from our own mainstream liberal democracy.
But the tectonic plates of political opinion seem to be moving. Perhaps it’s a reaction to 15 months of oafish President Trump or just the sheer number of young lives that have been slaughtered in schools and colleges but there seem to be clear shifts in public opinion. When even a former ‘Republican’ member of the Supreme Court questions the way that the 2nd amendment on the right to bear arms is applied then things might be different now.
But it is the young people that have inspired me – as they so often do. When more people turn out to argue for gun control in the “March for our Lives” than turned out for the President’s inauguration then you can feel the change. What great young people they are. Within minutes of seeing their fellow students slaughtered in Parklands in Florida they began a campaign which is rocking the establishment. “This must be the last time that this happens”, they declared and instead of leaving it there as has happened time after time they started up a national campaign to take on the NRA.
The big question is who is listening? Well there are some signs of hope:
- President Trump seems to be advocating some limited controls but it does appear to depend on which day it is to fathom out what he will actually do.
- Florida has already moved some minor amendments to gun law although these have been temporarily blocked by legal action from the loathsome NRA.
- Recently the Vermont legislature also voted for minor but welcome improvements to their State’s gun laws.
But some things do not change! The NRA claimed after the marches in Washington and 800 other cities in America that they were only able to take place because armed police and the military protected them. They are still pulling the strings in the backs of puppet politicians who mouth the slogans of ‘rights to bear arms’ and ‘we need to protect our families”.
Here the most promising change is that of corporate America who have been pulling NRA special deals like snow disappearing off a hot tin roof. These people understand the entrails of the people of the USA. Call it cynicism if you like but in dissing the NRA they are responding to the preferences of those that buy their services or products.
The big chance to make change permanent must come in the elections for Congress and some Senate seats this year. The young people cannot hope to outspend the NRA and their satraps. But the NRA cannot turn out millions of young people to get their fellow youngsters out to vote. They cannot, correctly, tug the heart strings of those older themselves.
Inevitably, this means that the gun law debate will be politicised but not on straight Democratic/ Republican lines. There are a few Republicans who do not support the general NRA line and there a few Democrats who do but basically this will be a blue/red fight.
Of course, winning an election does not change sentiment on a permanent basis. The youngsters must themselves, as soon as possible, get themselves elected into Mayoralties, the Congress and the Senate. They must continue to pull at the heartstrings of mainstream America and convert sentiment into action. They must continue to harry the captains of Corporate America to ensure that they do not go back on their new-found idealism. Existing Senators and Congressmen must not waver in their resolve in the face of hostile advertising paid to their opponents. Cultural mores take time to change. We are talking about the need for work across decades and across generations if the USA is truly able to take its place as a civilised nation.
Even if the most optimistic assessments of the elections are carried into practice the gun law changes enacted would still fall far short of anything that we would consider acceptable in the UK and the rest of Europe. To us our families are safeguarded by no-one having guns. That line is supported by our Police who see the use of guns as very much an exception rather than the everyday. They know that they are safer in a no gun environment as well as the communities that they serve.
Our murder rate is a fraction of that in the USA. Most murders are intra-family or between gangs related to drugs and territory. Of, course other murders take place often when the innocent get in the way of the guilty. But those people would not be saved by everyone having guns.
All of us who have countless American friends hope that this is a pivotal moment for the USA. It would be wrong for us to interfere but we must, from the side-lines, express our opinion and provide our moral support to those youngsters led by Parklands survivors who are making such determined efforts to change their world and therefore our world.