Fifty people were killed this weekend at a gay club in Orlando, Florida. Fifty people, who were partying and socializing in a place that is supposed to be safe for LGBTs. Who were no threat to anyone. Who were targeted because of who and where they were.
We don’t need to speculate about the killer’s motives to understand what this was. Whether Omar Mateen was motivated by religious fanaticism or anti-gay bigotry; this was a hate crime.
Events like these inspire fear and anger. We’re afraid it might happen to us next. We’re angry that it could happen in the first place. We are emotional and we all want to make sure it never happens again.
Some will argue now is not a time for politics. But what’s the point if we don’t learn from the massacre of fifty innocent people to reduce the chances of more people being killed?
Only hours after the shooting, prominent Republicans, like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, issued statements criticizing President Barack Obama and the Democrats for not taking the Islamic terror threat more seriously.
No matter that they jumped to conclusions. No matter that they’ve been vague on what more can be done to stop terrorists than is already being done. They, like all conservatives, are appalled by the loss of life and frightened by a baleful ideology that promotes the most brutal forms of violence. They want to do something. Let’s not disparage that. Their instinct — to lash out in anger — may be wrong, but at least they’re angry too.
Forty years ago, when a gay club in New Orleans, Louisiana was set ablaze, police barely investigated. No one was convicted. The newspapers ignored the story and not a single politician spoke up.
Today, Republicans — who only recently were fighting marriage equality tooth and nail — are universally condemning the atrocity in Orlando.
They may not be allies of LGBTs yet, but the fact that they’re no longer indifferent to violence against LGBTs is something.
On the other side, Democrats are quick to seek a solution in gun control.
This isn’t wrong. If calling for stricter gun laws in the wake of a mass shooting is unbecoming, they shouldn’t have proposed putting more lifeboats on ships after the Titanic sank either.
Guns are not the only issue, for sure. Some on the left are so worried about Islamophobia that they refuse to recognize how shockingly prevalent homophobia is among Muslims. That doesn’t mean religion is at fault and we must remember that ordinary Muslims — like all ordinary people — abhor violence.
But just as it’s not a coincidence that relatively more people die of gun violence in America than in any other Western country, it’s not a coincidence that an Islamic maniac should target a gay club.
America could make it more difficult for maniacs like Mateen to get a gun, though.
Gun laws may not stop criminals. If Mateen really wanted to, he could probably have bought a gun illegally. But this is a flawed argument against gun control. It’s like saying we shouldn’t bother with speed limits because some people will ignore them. They still make the roads safer for everyone.
Mateen was able to buy two weapons in the week before the shooting, one an AR-15 assault rifle. This is a civilian version of the M16 that was widely used in the United States armed services for decades.
It has also been widely used in mass shootings, including in San Bernardino, California last year and in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut in 2012.
Regulations on magazine capacity vary from state to state, but the AR-15 can fire up to 45 rounds per minute.
Surely no sane, law-abiding person needs to be able to fire 45 rounds in one minute for hunting or in self-defense?
Other countries that allow civilians to own an AR-15, like Germany and New Zealand, have stricter licensing requirements and limit the number of rounds the rifle can carry — to ten and seven, respectively. That seems like a sensible thing to do.
Gun control won’t solve everything. The sort of anti-gay bigotry that apparently motivated Mateen needs to be rooted out. Whether or not he really had ties with the self-proclaimed Islamic State (the group can be quick to claim responsibility for acts of terror no matter its involvement); it needs to be rooted out as well. But reasonable restrictions on guns can be part of the solution. At the very least, fewer people might have died.
Correction: Since this article was published, the Orlando Police Department clarified that the rifle used in Sunday’s shooting was not an AR-15 but the similar-looking Sig Sauer MCX. Click here to learn more about the difference between the two weapons from The Washington Post.