|Supporters of gun rights rallied in Washington DC [GETTY]
Washington DC is accustomed to seeing all sorts of aggrieved Americans gather in the capital to exercise their constitutional right to petition their government.
Yet the people who assembled there on Monday were demonstrating for a cause that is currently faring better than it has in many years.
Their cause is the right to carry firearms, practically anywhere they choose, whether concealed or plainly visible.
It is a right they see as guaranteed by the nation's constitution, dating back more than two centuries.
Yet each time the US experiences a shooting outrage, like a deranged gunman's massacre of 32 people at Virginia Tech University exactly three years ago, defenders of gun rights feel pressed to circle their wagons against those who believe too many guns are in the hands of dangerous people.
The election of Barack Obama triggered alarm bells among the champions of gun rights.
The National Rifle Association (NRA), one of Washington's most potent pressure groups, spent $15mn to paint Obama as a threat to gun owners.
During the campaign, Obama may have fueled concern when he spoke, though sympathetically, of economically insecure Americans.
"It's not surprising then they get bitter," he said, "they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them ...."
Whether or not in reaction to Obama, in his first year as president Americans proceeded to buy at least 14 million guns. One industry news service sarcastically dubbed Obama "the gun salesman of the year".
Yet amid the gun owners' continued hostility, it is the advocates of gun control who have given Obama a failing grade.
They berate him for concessions to the 'guns anywhere' mentality of the gun lobby.
Instead of pursuing campaign promises that courted votes from the gun-control crowd, Obama has instead signed legislation allowing people to carry concealed weapons in national parks and in checked luggage aboard trains.
Words of support for more gun violence prevention laws no longer appear on the White House website.
Proposed legislation to tighten existing gun laws meet with silence from the president's office.
And there has been no effort to revive an expired ban on the manufacture of new "assault" rifles, weapons which fire more than 10 rounds, a proven favourite of mass murderers.
|In Obama's first year as president, Americans bought at least 14 million guns [GETTY]
Moreover, in an historic reversal, the US Supreme Court threw out one of the nation's strictest gun laws. It found that Washington's own municipal ban on handguns violated the constitution's second amendment.
The judges had long interpreted the amendment's assurance that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, to apply only to state militias, not all individual Americans. No longer.
Now Washington DC residents may apply for licenses to own and carry handguns.
And gun rights activists have been scoring advances elsewhere.
In states which allow people to openly carry firearms, some enthusiasts have been walking defiantly into Starbucks coffee houses, their sidearms in full view.
Starbucks, which has the option like other stores to deny access to gun-carriers, has chosen to deflect the challenge. The company just says it obeys state laws and can provide its own safety measures.
But gun control advocates are circulating petitions demanding that Starbucks "offer espresso shots, not gunshots".
So, has all the political crossfire made Americans more or less safe?
Contrary to conventional thought, bad economic times have not resulted in an upsurge in violence.
In fact, last year cities like New York and Los Angeles recorded their fewest homicides since the 1960s.
Nationwide, murder and manslaughter fell by 10 per cent from 2008, continuing a steady trend that began more than a generation ago.
Gun advocates say that only verifies their belief that being armed is the best deterrent to violence.
In the purple prose of the NRA's top official: "Liberty is but an illusion ... freedom is nothing but dust in the wind till it's guarded by the blue steel and dry powder of a free and armed people."
That same official went on: "Our founding fathers understood that the guys with the guns make the rules."
Advocates of gun restriction sense an ominous tone in that rhetoric.
One of them sees it as a distortion of democracy and a call to insurrection against the government.
"Ultimately," wrote gun-control activist Denis Henigan, the gun champions are saying that "the rules are made by those more powerful than the rest of us because they are armed".
Skip Coryell, a former US marine who organised the rally, says the people should have the power to "rise up and overthrow an oppressive, totalitarian government" when it seizes private businesses, rigs elections, imposes martial law - or takes away their firearms.
"I'm not advocating the immediate use of force against the government," he added. "It isn't time, and hopefully that time will never come. But one thing is certain: Now is the time to rattle your sabers. If not now, then when?"