Is America too deeply divided to deal with its gun problem?

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For the gun lobby members arriving at their national convention, there is nothing odd or awkward about the timing of this event because there is, they believe, no correlation between mass shootings and guns.

“Guns don’t pick themselves up and kill people. It’s people that do that,” one woman told me.

“He managed to buy a gun,” I said to another visitor, referring to the Uvalde school gunman.

“That’s right – legally,” he said.

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“… and walk into a school and kill 19 kids,” I said.

“The school was negligent. They shouldn’t have had the doors open. He walked in an open door…” the man replied.

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“Should gun laws be tightened?” I asked another National Rifle Association (NRA) member.

“No. What they need to do is enforce the ones they have. They are not doing their job. They are letting those people slip through the cracks. That’s the issue,” he said.

‘Taking away their right to self defence is not the answer’

Inside the George R Brown Convention Centre, thousands of NRA delegates gathered for the keynote speech of their chief executive Wayne Lapierre.

He addressed the Uvalde school shooting upfront but rejected any attempts to restrict gun ownership.

“We, the NRA, will never stop fighting for the innocent and the law-abiding to defend themselves against the evil criminal element that plagues our society because we know there can be no freedom, no security, no safety without the right of the law-abiding to bear arms for self-defence.

“Taking away their right to self defence is not the answer. But there are certain common-sense things that we can and we must do…” Mr Lapierre said.

“We need to protect our schools because our children deserve at least and in fact more protection than our banks, stadiums and government buildings.”

He quoted former president Ronald Reagan, saying: “We must reject the idea that every time a law is broken society is guilty, rather than the lawbreaker.”

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual convention in Houston, Texas, U.S. May 27, 2022. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The guest of honour was former president Donald Trump.

Mr Trump wouldn’t have seen the anti-gun protests outside. The crowds were big, noisy and passionate.

‘Every single person in that building right there is complicit’

Among them, 17-year-old student Leah Samuels, who told me she is scared in her classroom every day.

“Every single person in that building right there is complicit,” she told me, pointing at the convention centre.

“If you are not actively doing something to help the problem, you are part of the problem. Honestly, I am absolutely disgusted, I am a student – that could so easily have been me. It’s horrifying,” she said.

Among the crowd, there was a sense that, despite no change after so many mass shootings, this time things could be different. But more than that; they say the change could begin in Texas.

People protest the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual convention in Houston, Texas, U.S. May 27, 2022. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

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The central cry was that the Republican politicians, who are in the pockets of the gun lobby groups, must be voted out of office.

The star guest was the Democratic candidate for Texas governor, one-time presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke.

“We are committed to it, and we are going to act. We are going to break through right now. Everyone here is committed to it,” he told me.

But against all this optimism, there is a blunt reality.

America is such a deeply divided society right now; more entrenched than it has been for decades. If nothing changed when the country was less divided, how is it really possible now?

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