Ruth Whippman: Americans won't give up their guns

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The Independent Online

The images are shamefully familiar: children with faces frozen in terror grasp each other's shoulders and file out into the school playground. A mother engulfs her son in an embrace of pure thankfulness. White-knuckled parents clutch mobile phones to their ears, desperate for news. These scenes have, in the past two decades, become quintessentially American.

With a routineness that is the principal tragedy, many of these incidents barely even register in the public's imagination. Rarely do they lead to any meaningful clamour for changes in gun law. America has more guns than any other nation on earth, with some 88 for every 100 people, a number that is increasing every year.

Although the Sandy Hook shooting has packed more of an emotional punch than previous cases, the sequence of events that has followed already feels painfully, rigidly familiar, the well-trodden mixture of emotional outpourings and political inertia – the lameness of the left and loopiness of the right.

Congressmen offer little but their "thoughts and prayers". A choked-up Barack Obama called for "meaningful action", but the White House was careful to temper that with an assurance that "today is not the day to debate gun control" whilst giving no hint as to when that day might actually come. On the right, the tragedy has been blamed on everything from a lack of God in the classroom, to a lack of guns.

To non-Americans it seems incomprehensible that the murder of 20 first-graders wouldn't be enough of a jolt to propel a radical change of the gun laws. I fear, however, that not even the slaughter of six-year-olds makes it more likely to happen. The problem is that gun control is not a symmetrical debate between two opposing points of view.

Politics is about telling the right stories, and, somehow, the gun lobby has taken firm ownership of the narrative of what it means to be an American. It is quite possibly one of the most ingenious and sinister PR messages ever crafted.

It is also a story that liberals rarely challenge. However strongly the left may argue for specific reforms, they are mainly just tinkering around the edges.

Despite the annual instalments of gun-related terror, there is virtually no mainstream movement here to repeal the Second Amendment. While modest gun control bills are regularly introduced in Congress they rarely progress further.

Unwilling to waste political capital with Republicans on a seemingly unwinnable issue, the president has been reluctant to push forward.

It is difficult to imagine a more poignant tragedy than the one that struck in Newtown, Connecticut. But if the deaths of the children at Sandy Hook aren't enough to force change, then nothing is.

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