“Beginning on January 20 2017, safety will be restored,” Donald Trump vowed as he accepted the nomination as the Republican candidate for president.
Trump had campaigned on fear. His speeches warned of the danger of undocumented immigrants and Muslim refugees, of the civil rights protesters whose demonstrations against police killings of unarmed black Americans had sparked “violence in our streets and chaos in our communities”.
“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” he said at his inauguration.
But, almost 400 days into his presidency, it is difficult to argue safety has been restored.
During his short tenure America has endured three of the worst mass shootings in modern US history, carried out not by jihadists, or immigrant gang members, but by disturbed white Americans.
The president who promised to guard against outsider threats now finds his favorite conservative tabloid begging him to for action on America’s domestic violence.
In Las Vegas, it was a 64-year-old retired accountant and real estate investor, a wealthy gambler who quietly assembled an arsenal of dozens of weapons, and then opened fire from a hotel room on a crowd of country music fans.
In Sutherland Springs, Texas, it was an air force veteran with a history of vicious domestic abuse who attacked the small rural church where his wife’s mother and grandmother worshipped on Sundays.
In Parkland, Florida, it was a troubled 19-year-old, whose violent behavior and threats about school shootings had resulted in repeated contact with law enforcement and even tips to the FBI. He was still able to legally purchase an AR-15 before he was old enough to buy a beer.
‘I have heard your prayer and seen your tears’
These are only a few major shootings, the ones that killed many Americans at once. They are not the incidents that leave dozens of Americans killed each day; not the other kinds of attacks, like the car attack in Charlottesville this summer that left Heather Heyer dead and at least 19 people injured amid violent public clashes between protesters and white supremacists.
Fifty-eight casualties in Las Vegas. Twenty-six in Sutherland Springs. Seventeen in Parkland, Florida. In all, 101 people dead, in just three attacks. And in at least two of them, major failures of the military and law enforcement, institutions Trump had championed, to do their jobs.
In a muted speech to the nation after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school shooting, Trump cited scripture. “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you,” he said.
“It is not enough to simply take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference,” he told Americans. “We must actually make that difference.”
For close watchers there was a lot hiding in that sentence, which can be interpreted as a quiet message to the National Rifle Association and the other gun rights advocates who supported his candidacy. No expansion of background check on gun sales. No assault weapons ban. The old, stigmatizing focus on mental illness and on finding ways to fortify schools against attack.
‘We must actually make that difference’
Each of the shootings has prompted talk of potential legislation: a ban on bump stocks, the obscure range toy the Las Vegas shooter attached to his guns, which make semi-automatic rifles mimic the rapid pace of fully automatic fire.
A new bipartisan law to force the US military and public agencies to provide more transparency on whether they’re properly sending records to the nation’s gun background check system.
Now, after the Parkland shooting, a push to enact a federal extreme risk protection order law, also called a “gun violence restraining order,” which would give family members and law enforcement officials a way to petition a court to temporarily bar an unstable person from owning or buying guns.
Each of these measures is extremely modest, requiring no major change to America’s gun culture, no decrease in any American’s fundamental ability to buy and own a handgun or even a military-style rifle.
None of them, even bipartisan legislation requiring the military to follow existing reporting laws, is yet anywhere close to passing.
Opponents of stricter gun control law continue to use the same strategy: delay, question whether anything can prevent evil, and wait for anger and shock to fade, and hopelessness to take over. Wait for the distractions of other disasters.
But the grieving and angry children who survived Wednesday’s shooting are speaking out, pressing for gun control, demanding action from the president on his favorite medium of communication, Twitter.
The images of American carnage are no longer aerial footage of chaos at elementary and high schools, or photographs of children fleeing their classrooms, but cellphone video from the terrified children hidden in their classrooms, listening to the sound of gunshots.
And gun control groups have new force behind their argument – the same argument Trump made in his inauguration speech – if your elected officials can’t protect you, replace them.