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On gun control, next to nothing happened in the United States after the slaughters at Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Las Vegas, the Orlando night club, Columbine High, Parkland and elsewhere.

There was a public outcry and dramatic calls for action, but within a couple of weeks, the furor subsided and the politicians moved on.

So, what’s different this time after the back-to-back horrors in Texas and Ohio? Not much, says the Democratic strategist Jim Manley, referencing U.S. President Donald Trump’s pledge to do something. “Once the NRA gets a hold of him, he will fold like a cheap Chinese-made Trump tie.”

He may be right about the red necktie. But not so much on gun control. Mr. Trump sounds serious about supporting some kind of background check program. But even if implemented, it would hardly begin to address the country’s gun sickness – there are an estimated 393 million firearms in circulation. What it will do is provide him with some badly needed political cover on the issue.

He has to do something because circumstances demand it. The firearms restrictionists are gaining too much strength to be ignored. The issue is more potentially damaging for the Republicans this time because of the links being drawn between white nationalism, gun violence and Mr. Trump’s rhetoric.

Unlike in the past when the mass shootings faded from view, this time the Democrats have high-profile presidential candidates campaigning to keep the issue alive; as they did at a forum in Iowa this past weekend.

There’s another thing. The National Rifle Association is losing its clout. Get on its wrong side before and it was powerful enough to go into your electoral district and bring you down. No longer.

The NRA is in disarray. Four of its board members have resigned in the past two weeks. It is running big annual deficits. Dues payments and donations are way down. There are allegations of overly cozy ties with Russia. New York State’s attorney-general is probing corruption allegations. Oliver North, the group’s president, was forced out in April after raising questions of wrongdoing at the top, such as that of Wayne LaPierre, the long-time chief executive, who allegedly used US$200,000 in NRA monies for wardrobe expenses. A report last week alleged Mr. LaPierre pushed to have the organization purchase him a luxury mansion in 2018.

Mr. Trump made pledges of supporting background checks following the Parkland shootings. After meeting with the NRA, he backed away.

But as public opinion for action on guns crystallizes, he can’t stay idle. To win in 2020, he needs to broaden his support beyond his base. He is facing major challenges from suburban voters, especially women. Changing his permissive approach to gun laws could signal a significant turn.

Some even see the Trump opportunity as tantamount to that of Nixon going to China; the notion that, as with the anti-Communist hardliner making peace with that arch enemy, a staunch defender of gun rights such as Mr. Trump could sell Americans on the idea that it’s time for a new approach. “Only Nixon could go to China and only President Trump – irrevocably a supporter of the Second Amendment – could do something to address these tragic gun crimes,” Michael Caputo, a longtime friend of Mr. Trump told The Hill.

But even if that’s the case, and Trump Republicans take on advocating gun reform, the reality is that they do not even have a plan to revive the 1994 ban on assault weapons, which barred Americans from buying these killing machines until 2004, when Republicans let it expire. Democratic front-runner Joe Biden, who was an architect of the ban, is pushing hard for its reinstatement, as are almost all the Democratic candidates.

If the Republicans were intent on big change, they would support this and other tougher measures, such as requiring would-be gun owners to first obtain licences, which would be granted only after a protracted screening process; as opposed to a background checks program, which, depending on details that Mr. Trump has yet to reveal, could be modest.

And it may even be moot. So as not to give Mr. Trump a victory, Democrats could well reject any such small measure from him. That would be taking things back to square one.

Square one, if we’re to take 2017 as an example, is 40,000 Americans dying annually via the gun.

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