Tragedy ... friends and family of the victims mourn their loved ones. Photo: AP
Before the dead had even been carried from the cinema in Colorado on Friday afternoon a CBS broadcaster said in a solemn radio editorial:
''We'll eventually find out who James Holmes is, but he's not a terrorist, we're told, and thousands of other showings were peaceful, so really we have to start seeing these things as natural disasters, like an earthquake or a tornado.''
The NRA ... has convinced a wider constituency that the right to keep and bear arms is not a singular right, but is freedom from tyranny itself.
That this view was swept away in the deluge of sad commentary on Friday was surprising to me, an outsider.
By this standard James Holmes was not a young man armed more heavily than the soldiers the US fields in Afghanistan, but an event, an act of god, to be weathered rather than countered.
This, even though he was carrying two semi-automatic pistols, a shotgun and an assault rifle with a clip that let him fire 100 rounds without reloading, and though he was wearing body armour from head to toe, and a gas mask, and though he carried a tear gas grenade to disorient his victims, and though he bought all this equipment - plus 6000 rounds of ammunition - legally from discount stores and websites.
After mass killings in schools, universities, offices, restaurants and even a military base there is no real debate, let alone political action, to restrict the free sale of any guns - even military weapons - in America.
It is difficult to understand how a country that so truly values its citizens' rights to life - and uniquely to their pursuit of happiness - can tolerate such a situation.
If you can't grasp the geography you look to the landmarks. In 1994, Congress approved a 10-year ban on 19 types of military-style assault weapons, a few months later some Democrats blamed the laws on their loss of the House of Representatives.
Five years later, Al Gore, then the vice-president, cast a tie-breaking Senate vote on legislation to restrict sales at gun shows.
Gore lost the 2000 election. Still, since then both Obama and Romney have shown some resolution on guns.
Before the last election Obama advocated closing the loophole that allows for gun purchases without background checks at gun shows, and for reinstating the assault weapons ban.
In April 2008 he described some angry voters of small town America as people who ''cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them as a way to explain their frustrations''.
Bad move, it confirmed the worst for his gun-advocate opponents.
As governor of Massachusetts Romney banned assault rifles in his state. But he has had a change of heart since.
As he prepared for his first presidential run in 2006 Romney became a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, and this year he told the NRA national convention: ''We need a president who will enforce current laws, not create new ones that only serve to burden lawful gun owners.''
So what changed?
The NRA boasts only 4 million fee-paying members. But its reach is far further. Its members and surrogates have convinced a wider constituency that the right to keep and bear arms is not a singular right, but is freedom from tyranny itself.
This organised minority can be relied upon to vote on guns alone, while liberal voters will consider other issues like healthcare or the economy.
The NRA is aware of the power of single-issue voting and directs its propaganda to support it.
On Friday at the association's headquarters in Virginia, the flags were at half-mast. In the lobby there was a stack of the group's most recent journal. On page 5 there was a full-page ad for an AR-15, the assault rifle used in the killings in Colorado.
There was also a two-page editorial about the Obama administration's ''arrogant disregard for the law'' in suggesting the Justice Department should gather information on people who purchased two assault rifles in a five-business-day period, a feature claiming the Obama administration was risking the lives of servicemen in the wake of the assault that killed Osama bin Laden and an eight-page feature railing against a United Nations treaty against small arms.
These are not issues that would resonate among swing voters.
There are politicians who brave the message.
''Soothing words are nice, but maybe it's time the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they're going to do about it,'' the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, said.
But he is a rich man with a liberal constituency.
On the other side of the country Republican congressman Louie Gohmert said he thought the problem was more about lack of access to God rather than the availability of guns.
''What really gets me as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs and then a senseless crazy act of terror like this takes place,'' he said.
''It does make me wonder, you know, with all those people in the theatre, was there nobody that was carrying.''
In good times an American president can hope to shoot for one or two goals in a term.
In hard times they hope to nail one.
Obama's options are limited.
If he wins a second term he will defend his healthcare reform and perhaps tackle another issue - probably nuclear arms reduction.
It is an admirable goal, but little comfort to the 100,000 odd people killed or injured by guns in America each year.
Nick O'Malley is the US correspondent.