Leading article: US politicians must turn their fire on the gun lobby

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The Independent Culture
WE HAVE seen it all so many times before. The shocked embraces of weeping teenagers, the screams, the stunned reactions in the face of incomprehensible massacre. The killing of seven people inside a Texas church at Fort Worth on Wednesday night has brought the focus yet again on to America's uniquely liberal gun laws, whereby teenagers who are deemed too young to buy a beer are allowed to own and fire a gun.

America is a country of frontiersmen, at least in people's minds. It is still driven by its self-perception as a nation of pioneers. The use of guns is about learning to survive in a potentially hostile environment, where the state can do nothing to protect you. For millions of Americans, guns have come to symbolise personal freedom.

In addition, the unique power of lobbyists, such as the National Rifle Association, in the US means that any politician trying to curb the power of guns can expect that the ambitious project (not to mention his career) is likely to come to an untimely end.

The massacre of the innocents in the Baptist church on Wednesday night is just one among many. The previous day, a gunman killed three at a Californian medical centre. Two months ago, a man killed nine people in Atlanta. In April, two students shot 13 people dead at a Colorado school. And so the list goes on.

And yet, this grisly list - long, even by American standards - may in some respects have done the country a favour. Admittedly, radical policies such as the complete confiscation of handguns, which Britain introduced after the massacre at Dunblane, could never find a way on to an American agenda. Miracles happen, but not on that scale.

None the less, the answer may be blowing in the wind. Al Gore and Bill Bradley, the main Democratic hopefuls, have publicly declared their determination to introduce tougher gun control legislation. By contrast, George W Bush, the main Republican contender and governor of the state where the church shootings occurred, has made a record for himself by making gun laws even laxer than they previously were.

This means that the issue of gun control will certainly have a central place in next year's presidential election campaign. When the people are frightened, the power of even the wealthiest special interest groups is diminished. If the next American president and his party in Congress are elected on a platform of tougher gun control legislation, the NRA may find that at last its guns have been spiked.