There are a number of parallels I see between these two (potential) turning points on similarly controversial issues of gun control and abortion. Except that the former is pretty much a non-issue outside of the US, while in the latter case Ireland occupies the extreme of right-wing policy anywhere in the developed world. The result being that foreign and home-grown progressives merge disbelief with strong criticism of national qualities: Ireland’s ‘medieval’ abortion laws (even if the historian in me wants to point out that 1861 is firmly in the Victorian period), or the Guardian describing America as a ‘failed state’ when it comes to guns and violence.
In both cases some people claim an aversion to politicising tragedy, but the simple riposte is: if not now, when? As more details emerge, others will always remain unclear, and it’s easy to point to an agnosticism as the most responsible stance - but to do so ignores the sufficiency of facts as they stand, and, without minimising the tragedy (quite the opposite really) their symbolic function; the extent to which the emotional reaction to events provides the catalyst for real political momentum. There’s a good deal of scepticism over whether anything can really change in the American gun control debate, and whether action will really be taken.
In the United States, there seems to be a cultural inability to deal with gun violence. Many people assimilate their ‘pro-gun’ views into their entire identity, becoming the equivalent of ‘single-issue voters’ for everyday life. So all arguments for gun-control become a personal and philosophical affront, and if something is that firmly rooted in the core of your self, you’re not going to give.
Of course, there are other reasons for the support of increased gun rights in the United States: militias are on the rise, far-right conspiracies about government death camps have been spread by major party candidates, and the NRA’s rise to AIPAC-like status in Washington (i.e. impervious to attacks from any congressperson or senator) are all part of it. But I would argue those are fairly subordinated to the reason I mentioned above. If you are running for office, you don’t mention it, for risk of completely alienating members of your constituency who see no other option but their own. This is probably much more prevalent in rural areas like where I grew up, so I saw it a lot when I was younger. Where I live now is probably very similar, demographically, but my disengagement from most local politics kind of keeps me from knowing for sure.
In addition, the violence this summer (and fall, and soon to be winter, I’m sure) was not dealt with in any fashion, so far as I see it, due to the election season. No person running for office made a statement about Aurora, or any of the other massacres, unless they knew for sure they could get away with it. It wasn’t addressed in the debates, and something tells me it won’t be addressed through law.
I think another issue with a strong cultural stigma attached to it, that we won’t do much about, is the way mental health is treated and seen, by government agencies, medicine, and most people in the populace. A lot of reactions I saw, both from gun control and gun rights people, talked about how we either can or can’t control whether ‘crazies’ get guns. While it’s dangerous to generalize, this seemed to be the response from a lot of people. And truthfully, mental health has played a huge role in most mass-shooting incidents in the past 30 or so years. But to treat illness as only something dangerous to defend ourselves from, to make every schizophrenic or manic-depressive into a dangerous criminal, is a terrible stance to take. The rate of mental illness is five-times higher in the prison population than in that of the general population. Jail is often considered the best option, as large prisons also operate some of the largest mental-health clinics in the US. This might speak to a cultural predisposition to only deal with problems when they become dangerous to us, but the vast majority of mental illness isn’t dangerous to anyone, not even the person diagnosed. That doesn’t mean treatment can’t help, but someone with extreme anxiety won’t go shoot up a school. That doesn’t meant they shouldn’t be able to easily receive the treatment they deserve.
So, what is my long in getting there, rambling point? There are significant cultural and political issues that will prevent the underlying causes of mass-shooting to be dealt with. Not to deny that similar issues don’t prevent change in Ireland’s abortion laws, though I can’t say I have much knowledge about that besides what you post, but gun issues often seem intractable to me on a very personal level, problems that even the shock of tragedy can’t undo. Maybe I’ll be wrong. I think mental health issues will probably be dealt with sooner, simply because they are less controversial. If not now, when? Probably not soon.
P.S. For what it’s worth, post-Columbine all the grade schools I attended had an armed police officer attached to them, and normally one or two driving around the parking lots periodically.