Before it fades quickly from the public discourse –as mass killings in the US, as horrendous as they are, always do— some rambling thoughts on Sunday morning’s slaughter at a nightclub in Orlando, where 49 people were killed and another 53 wounded by a psychopath with typically easy access to a military grade assault weapon..
Was Omar Mateen really so calculating in his brutality that he purposely directed his carnage to a place whose name defines life? Or did he choose the Pulse night club simply because it was known primarily as a Saturday night meeting place for Orlando’s LGTBQ community?
Was he an actual ISIS operative or just an unhinged homophobe? Or maybe a bit of both, the perfect storm/lone wolf the organization seeks, attracts and finds in the US where a powerful gun lobby conveniently helps ensure that weapons designed specifically to kill can easily get into the hands of those willing to kill in their name?
Mass shootings in the US, which have become so routine, always come wrapped in questions similar to these, albeit framed according to the politics of those asking. Subsequent debates, usually about the easy accessibility Americans have to firearms, have also become routine, cyclical. They usually go something like this:
Mass killing -> gun debate -> politicians cower, ask citizens to pray -> change the subject. Rinse and repeat.
More questions from Orlando:
Mateen, who was born in New York to Afghan immigrants, praised ISIS in a 911 call on his proverbial way out. But was that praise genuine? No direct links have yet been discovered that connect him to the organization. There’s no evidence that he attended a training camp in Syria, Iraq or Libya. We simply don’t know.
If it was, was it his warped interpretation of ISIS’s criminal ideology that made him open fire on 300 people that morning? Or, as his parents suggested, did he, as someone who was already hostile toward gays, simply become unhinged after seeing two men kissing in public in front of his young son?
Did someone in a tent in Libya order a direct hit on Pulse or did he act on his own? And if he did, was it ISIS’s ideology and strong hatred of homosexuals that triggered his actions? Or was it a decree typically issued by some right-wing Christian who openly and regularly foments violence against the LGTBQ community and whose words Mateen may have heard on talk radio as he drove by a billboard directing him to the next gun shop? Either one of those makes as much sense as the other. Neither should be discounted. Different books, same kind of hatred.
The larger point is that someone planning to carry out a slaughter in the US that targets the LGTBQ community doesn’t need any guidance from the outside. There’s ample home-bred hatred directed towards them, whether it’s channeled through flat out violent gay-bashing in the streets or through anti-LGTBQ legislation that’s regularly and formally introduced in halls of government. Just hours after the massacre, Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas tweeted something along the lines of ‘you reap what you sow’. That’s a high-powered elected public official using the Bible, not the Quran, to seeming justify the slaughter. He later deleted the tweet, and issued a statement calling it an unfortunate coincidence.
* Added on 14-Jun 20:00 GMT – The gun used by Mateen was not at AR-15, according to Orlando Police. Clarification via the Washington Post:
Orlando Police officials first classified the weapon used in the rampage as an “AR-15-type assault rifle.” On Monday, officials said the weapon used was a Sig Sauer MCX. While in many ways similar to the AR-15 family of rifles, the MCX relies on a different gas system to operate and cannot be fairly classified as an AR-15. Both weapons can fire the same type of ammunition at roughly the same speeds and share a similar history.
Shouldn’t the question be why assault rifles remain so easily accessible in the first place?
These aren’t guns created for self-defense, or for hunting deer, rabbits or fowl. These are tools designed for use on battlefields with the sole intent to hunt and kill as many people as quickly and efficiently as possible. There is no reasonable justification for these kinds of weapons to be legally available to anyone outside of the military.
Hand guns turn killers into armed killers. Assault rifles are weapons that turn killers into killing machines.
As most people who live outside the US clearly see, the solutions aren’t rocket science. Removing assault rifles from the equation would have dramatically reduced the body counts at the bloodbaths in Orlando, Sandy Hook and Aurora. At this point, we should all welcome and encourage efforts to reduce body counts.
But don’t hold your breath. When the horrific slaughter of 20 six- and seven-year-old children in Newtown in 2012 only prompted lawmakers to cower at the feet of the NRA, I pretty much gave up on the notion that a common sense approach to guns will ever prevail in the US. I don’t expect a shooting spree that targeted a gay club in Florida to prompt any action now.
The lead photo: detail from Das Andere Buch by Theo Blaickner at the Schillerplatz in Linz, Austria, January 2008, the site’s 892nd straight Pic du Jour.