ANOTHER week, another shooting in America – and then another. First in an El Paso Walmart, and then in Dayton, Ohio, with a total of 31 people killed. There have been 61 fatalities as a result of mass shootings in 2019 alone.

Few acts of brutality make international onlookers feel so impotent. It is all very well being a staunch and vocal supporter of gun control, but when you’re outside of the US, you might as well be screaming into the void for all the good your thoughts on the matter will do. Your opinions are not wanted, your protestations for sense fall on deaf ears. Given the current political climate, right now they are perhaps less welcome than ever.

Even though we in the UK have no say, with each new shooting, I feel it’s important to reflect on what is happening across the Atlantic, and why the response to a preventable tragedy is in such stark contrast to other countries beset by gun violence. In 1996, I was eight years old when Thomas Hamilton entered Dunblane Primary School with two Browning High Power pistols and two Smith & Wesson M19 Magnum revolvers. He killed 16 children and a teacher before killing himself. The response was – by constitutional standards – swift. As a result of the massacre, the John Major government and subsequent Tony Blair administration banned all handguns apart from sporting arms and historical weapons.

It’s commendable that both a Conservative and following Labour government – diametrically opposed in so many ways – could put their differences aside. That both were in agreement over the importance of gun law reform sent a message about how the potential for such barbarisms should be prevented as far as possible.

A comparable unanimous and swift response has not been forthcoming in response to American tragedies and nor do I think will it ever be.

Three years after Dunblane, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold attempted to blow up their high school in Columbine, Colorado, before opening fire on students and faculty staff. Twelve students and one teacher were murdered, and 21 more were injured. At the time it was the most deadly school shooting in American history. It’s telling that “List of school shootings in the United States by death toll” has its own ghoulish Wikipedia page. And despite each of these tragedies – new and old – America grieves and moves on, gun in hand.

The cover of a 1974 book on the issue by Phoebe Courtney speaks to the libertarian root of the counter-argument for gun ownership: “Gun Control Means People Control: What is behind this drive to disarm law-abiding citizens?”. For many in the US, gun ownership is part of the collective psyche and the social fabric. Early settlers could not rely on the government to protect them, so each assumed the responsibility of doing it themselves. A significant portion of those who fought for and secured American independence were part of citizen-soldier militias. As historian GG Coulton notes: “Every man was his own soldier and his own policeman.”

Echoes of this frontier mindset reverberate in modern gun culture. After Hurricane Katrina devastated much of New Orleans in 2005, militias patrolled the streets of Algiers Point, a white enclave in a predominantly black neighbourhood. Streets were barricaded and cordoned off, while armed white people stood guard.

Black residents spoke of having pump-action shotguns aimed at them and being told to leave the area. While some responded to the tragedy with collective solidarity and charity, in others it awoke the individual anarchism of self-interested parties that is so integral to the Early American story.

The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012 was the moment the fight against gun violence took on an aspect of futility, given the age of the victims and parallels with Dunblane. In the UK, the death of such little children was a catalysing force for good – there have been no school shootings since.

And while the children of Sandy Hook similarly bore the brutal consequences of access to guns, there was little reaction beyond the cliched thoughts and prayers. There was a doubling-down by those who support the NRA, and a notable absence of sustained and meaningful collective action.

It is impossible not to draw such a grim conclusion: for some, guns matter more to people than the lives of innocent children. For a significant portion of the American public, the weapon is the material manifestation of freedom itself, with many seeing it as a means of protection against criminals and as a means of holding the government to account should it be required.

However repellent this seems from an outsider’s perspective not shaped by a culture where it is normal, it’s undeniable that the gun forms part of the country’s history. For some who support gun ownership (the majority white and male) banning firearms would be tantamount to castration and a betrayal of their ancestors’ legacy.

Gun control will only be possible when enough people confront the truth about security: that to be safe, the price is giving up some freedom. In a country where that word is synonymous with being American, it will always be a hard sell. For some, that freedom will always be worth the cost of someone else’s life, however young that life might be.

Disarming America requires a whole lot more than the removal of guns from the hands of its citizens. It involves a rewrite of history and a fresh imagining of its future.