What do I write when America has once again been turned into a shooting gallery—this time in a hate-filled attack on the gay and lesbian community—setting still another record for the worst mass shooting in American history? In fact, the deadliest attack here since 9/11. The kind of wholesale slaughter of innocents that I and others have predicted time and again?
I guess the onus is on me to find something new to say when I’ve been writing about this issue for over a decade and the song remains the same. Let’s start here: Why the suspected shooter (I won’t name him as I respect the “no notoriety” campaign), did what he did, is mostly irrelevant. No, not to the investigators, who need to piece together exactly what happened and why it occurred. But to those of us who won’t allow flacks who profit from our gun culture to derail the discussion into howling about “Sharia Law” or Spongebob Squarepants. The “why” is just not nearly as important as the “how.”
To begin with, we have no more mental instability or murderous intent in this country than any other high-income nation. In fact, there is less stigma around getting treated for mental illness in the U.S. than peer nations. Regardless, the regularity with which blood is shed from the tip of an AR-15 in the United States just doesn’t happen in England. Or Japan. Or France (remember the terror attacks in Paris? Yeah, those are pretty much the only shootings that have happened in Paris, making it a much, much safer place to be than, say, Paris, Texas).
It also doesn’t happen in Australia. They had their equivalent of Orlando or Sandy Hook or pick your unspeakable slaughter in 1996. Then a not-so-funny-thing happened. They ended their mass shootings and sent their murders and suicides plummeting—down 60-70 percent—by passing public health measures to handle a public health crisis.
This point has been made before, so here I am already guilty of repeating myself. An occupational hazard when you write about guns in America. So let’s go to something I’ve said before, but has a new twist to it as of today. The Republican Party, and almost solely the Republican Party (yeah, I’m not forgetting you nor letting you off the hook, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp), has blocked those on terror watch lists from being banned from buying guns. You can be on an FBI watch list that won’t allow you on an airplane, but still buy a .50 caliber rifle that can take down a small aircraft. Does that make any sense?
The president of the United States, in a PBS town hall that produced a viral video just a week or two ago, put it like this: “I just came from a meeting today in the Situation Room in which I got people who we know have been on ISIL websites, living here in the United States, U.S. citizens, and we’re allowed to put them on the no-fly list when it comes to airlines, but because of the National Rifle Association, I cannot prohibit those people from buying a gun.
This is somebody who pledged allegiance to ISIS before the attack. And if he wants to walk in to a gun store or a gun show right now and buy as much—as many weapons and ammo as he can, nothing’s prohibiting him from doing that, even though the FBI knows who that person is.”
Guess what? the Orlando shooter was “a known quantity” to the FBI, who had actively investigated him in 2013 and 2014. He had abused his wife. And yet he still had a valid license to own a firearm in Florida. Do we not see a problem with this? This simply would never be the case in virtually any other high income country, which has looked at science, applied it to public policy and prioritized the right of their citizens to live over the cowboy fantasies of a certain subset of the male species there. Why not here?
So was he on the Terror Watch List and if not, why not? And can Republicans (save, Republican Senator Mark Kirk, who has been near perfect on this issue) and recalcitrant Blue Dog Democrats finally put their love of country before their love of gun-manufacturer money and Tea Party French kisses? Can they say today, with conviction, that if you can’t get on an airplane because you can’t be trusted not to commit an act of terror, you can’t buy a gun?
It isn’t like we don’t know terrorists are advising their acolytes to buy these weapons and kill. They are.
That the suspected murderer was able to get an AR-15, the weapon of choice for mass murderers, makes it that much worse (according to the ATF, he also purchased a handgun within the past few days). No human being who hasn’t gone through a rigorous background check, with family members and colleagues as references, the weapon registered and hours of psychological and physical tests, among other things, should have access to this weapon of war. The parents who saw their children’s corpses after Sandy Hook have described them as “being torn to pieces.” It is time for those in the gun violence prevention movement to revisit getting these weapons off the streets altogether. Full stop.
Finally, could there be any better petri dish than Florida? This is the state where National Rifle Association lobbyist and former leader of the organization, Marion Hammer, has had full access to almost anything she’s wanted. Doctors have been banned from even discussing the danger of guns with patients. The result of all this? I wrote about it a short while back, in the context of a bill where they were debating—and I am not making this up—suspending all gun laws during the declaration of some ill-defined “national emergency”:
Whether it’s their pioneering effort in passing racist Stand Your Ground laws… the disgruntled marching into a school-board meeting in Panama City and firing on the assembled members in an attempt to get his wife’s job back. Shooting a man for texting his babysitter from a movie theater. And returning a Glock pistol and assault rifle to a gentleman named Wayne Rogers, after he shot his “drinking buddy.” And killed him. Did I mention Rogers is blind?
Trayvon Martin was murdered just outside of Orlando. Just a day ago, a rising star on “The Voice” was signing autographs when she was shot and killed. And now, the worst shooting in American history, in a blatant attack on the LGBTQ community. Do we think in any way, shape or form “The Florida Way” is working?
If anyone is reading this thinking they’re immune to these increasingly common, increasingly deadly and often random shootings, protected by some sort of bubble from an individual with easy access to an assault rifle and having a bad day, they’re sadly mistaken. If you think a gun protects someone who isn’t ready for an attack, you exist in a fantasy world.
This was predictable, as is the next one, and the one after that. I shot competitively for five years. This isn’t that. This is your giving up your right to free association, free speech, the general welfare and domestic tranquility—all in the Constitution—for a corrupted, politicized reading of a 200+ year old amendment about raising a militia against internal and external threats, in a time of no standing armies.