The National Rifle Association (NRA) – America’s most powerful pro-gun lobbying group – once again held its annual convention just days after another mass shooting.
But so grave is the country’s ongoing epidemic of gun violence that the NRA would now find it impossible to schedule any kind of meeting that did not occur in the immediate aftermath of another attack.
NRA members were in full cry at this weekend’s meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, just 123 miles north of Louisville in neighbouring Kentucky. There, last week’s attack by a bank employee who killed five of his co-workers with an AR-15 assault rifle before himself being killed by police was America’s 146th mass shooting of the year. In the six days since it occurred, the Gun Violence Archive recorded another 16 mass shootings elsewhere in the country (although one of them also took place in Louisville, leaving another two people dead and four injured).
Republican Presidential aspirants descended on the NRA conference to embrace the organisation’s rejection of any kind of meaningful gun control proposals. They unanimously echoed the NRA’s line that the nation’s mental health crisis is to blame for the deaths so far this year of 12,237 people, 509 of them children and teenagers.
Donald Trump told NRA conference attendees on Friday that he is “proud to be the most pro-gun, pro-Second Amendment president you’ve ever had”. He went on to argue that mass shootings are “not a gun problem. This is a mental health problem… a social problem… a cultural problem… a spiritual problem”. If he’s returned to the White House in 2025, he pledged to launch a probe of whether transgender “ideology” is fuelling the crisis.
Despite being booed at the conference, former vice President Mike Pence struck an even tougher pose. Insisting on the need for “crime control”, he called for the institutionalisation of the mentally ill and the immediate execution “in months, not years” of the perpetrators of mass gun attacks.
Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, another Republican widely presumed to be planning a presidential campaign, told convention delegates that Americans’ right to carry weapons is “the basis of their ability to rule themselves”. He called for efforts to penalise “woke capital” investment firms that are boycotting the gun industry.
The NRA’s echo chamber notwithstanding, some pro-gun lawmakers were badly shaken by the events of last month. In both the Louisville bank shooting and a preceding primary school shooting in Nashville that left three nine-year-olds among the six people dead, the governors of Kentucky and Tennessee respectively had personal ties to some of the victims.
Tennessee’s Governor Bill Lee, a pro-gun Republican, told reporters that 61-year old teacher Cynthia Peak, killed at the Covenant Christian primary school, was one of his wife’s closest friends, and had been due to join the family for dinner on the night of the attack. Days later, Kentucky’s Governor Andy Beshear, a Democrat with a spotty record on gun control, lost one of his closest friends – 63-year old Thomas Elliott – in the Louisville attack.
The two governors spoke to one another and shared condolences for their states’ and families’ respective losses. Neither has voiced any support yet for restrictions on the widespread availability of firearms that were legally obtained by the shooters in both assaults.
But Lee and Beshear face growing public anger, even in deeply conservative states where large majorities support the legality of gun ownership.
The two governors are not alone in being directly touched by gun violence. A study released last week shows that one American in every six has personally witnessed a shooting. Among black Americans, that figure rises to one in every three.
But the fear of becoming ensnared in a shooting is now fuelling the firearms industry’s profits, with 41 per cent of Americans saying they live in a household with a gun.