The cautious tightening of gun laws in the USA that has just been decided will not change much, but it is a big step for the country. At the same time, the rules are relaxed elsewhere. America is fighting for its future.
It is 8:36 a.m. Saturday morning when Joseph Biden, the 46th President of the United States, signs legislation in the Oval Office that is historic. Not because of the factual change it entails, but rather because of the political signal. The law aims to make gun violence less likely. For a long time, many Republican senators lacked the political will to even slightly tighten gun laws.
Uvalde changed everything. Nineteen elementary school children and two teachers were killed on May 24 when an 18-year-old boy, armed with a wartime semi-automatic rifle, entered his old school and killed an entire elementary school class. America is shaken. Just a few weeks earlier, an 18-year-old had shot and killed ten people, mostly black people, in a supermarket in New York State for racist motives with the same type of weapon.
The President has traveled to both places, mourning with the families and calling on his country to stop accepting this. In a speech to the nation, he shouted "enough": not just "enough", but "enough". Biden urged Congress to do something. There, the Republican senators opposed it. Given the current majority, the Democrats needed ten of them to even get such a bill put to the vote and then pass it. There are ten Republicans negotiating in the background with the Democrats. The Conservative negotiator is John Cornyn of Texas.
Gun violence is commonplace in the United States. Most attacks don't make the TV news, or even the local paper. Even in the US capital Washington, the police are chasing shooters several times a day, as a quick look at their Twitter account shows, where they post a warning message whenever there is a shooting.
It happened on my doorstep a week ago. Last Sunday America celebrated "Juneteenth". Biden declared June 19 a holiday last year to commemorate the end of slavery among African Americans in the United States. On 14th Street in Washington, the black community celebrated a festival that was not officially registered with the city. The police still closed the affected streets so that people could celebrate safely.
Shots are fired in the early evening. They meet three adults, including a police officer, and a teenager. The 15-year-old dies at the scene. I could see it all from my window - the panic as the shots rang out, the cops running to help, and those trying to spot the perpetrator in the fleeing mass of people and follow him. It only takes minutes, there are 20 more emergency vehicles, a helicopter is circling in the air.
But in addition to this scene, another develops. A few meters from the crime scene, young black women jump onto the roof of a police car and dance. The shots don't seem to have upset her, such experiences are so commonplace for people in the United States. While as a European I cringe and am deeply impressed when there is a bang on my street, Americans can dance again minutes later.
The new gun law will probably not change anything about such incidents, even if Joe Biden calls it "the most important of the past thirty years". Because it does bring minimal tightening, such as a basic test before the sale of weapons to 18 to 21 year olds and more money for the states to develop their own programs for more security. Most importantly, the bipartisan law provides $15 billion for school safety and the mental health of young people. Overall, this political response shows that something is moving in America. But the one step that politics has taken forward, the Supreme Court is taking it backwards.
The day before the law reached political majorities in Congress, the US Supreme Court ruled that states will have a harder time banning citizens from openly carrying guns in the future. This has not been allowed in Washington so far, but it is quite normal in Texas, for example, for anyone to be able to carry their revolver on their belt buckle.
The court's basis for reasoning is the Second Amendment. It guarantees Americans the right to own and bear arms. A debate is beginning to develop in parts of society about this amendment, with the question: How timely is it? The group is very small, but famous voices are part of it. In one of his recent TV shows, comedian Trevor Noah said that on the Second Amendment, he felt Americans care more about protecting the Constitution than the American people, who are supposed to be protected by the Constitution.
But above all the judgment of the Supreme Court divides the country. Many accept the notion that having a gun in the house is considered necessary. But wear it openly in public? It's not the only contentious issue. The Supreme Court also recently ruled on abortions. His verdict threw back women's rights by decades, and it will further fan the culture war in the country.
Because once again America is fighting for its future. There will be a first mood test in November. Then there are midterm elections for the presidency of Joe Biden, the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate will be re-elected. The result will have a lasting impact on the country's political course.