Orlando, AR-15s, ISIS and Homophobia

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.

On AR-15s*


* 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.


Should it even make a difference whether a slaughter by assault rifle is carried out by a wife-beating gay-bashing psychopath in the name of ISIS, by a dude with a Catholic school background (who slaughtered 20 children at Sandy Hook in 2012), or a Lutheran during a screening of a Batman film (a la James Holmes who gunned down a dozen moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado in 2012)?

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.


  1. Whether he was influenced or acted alone, it was an act of terror. Walking in and slaughtering fifty people is a terrorist action.
    I am sick to death of vigils and the “thoughts and prayers” politicians offer rather than tackling the situation and making it better.
    I am so, so very sad.

  2. When is the US going to do something. When 911 hit the government went straight into action going to war on terrorism yet since then more people have been shot in multiple death shootings than happened in that attack (ignoring the hundreds of isolated shootings). I think is shocking that in this day and age we US doesn’t wake up to the fact that these guns kill and they protect no one. I once read a sentence that was so true; when a killer kills in the name of the Bible, he’s a shooter, when he kills in the name of quran he’s a terrorist. Killing is killing and putting labels and justification just doesn’t help. There isn’t any wild west now it’s time for the usa to move into the 21st century?
    Unfortunately this isn’t a war so no way for large amounts of money to be made on the back of any action so I suspect your cycle will indeed be repeated,.

  3. Simply not tackling the issue is so gutless and so repetitive. Politicians care more about the votes of the paranoid than about the safety of normal people. I agree with Anon that manipulation of these voters is also rife. Murder is murder. Mass murder is mass murder. All dreadful. All so so sad

  4. As you say, it is one thing that people outside the states see clearly and cannot understand why it should be howled down by so many. Powerful automatic guns kill lots of people. Period. That’s what they’re designed to do.

    1. The way gun advocates bend over backwards to justify their right to own assault rifles is mind boggling. These are modified weapons of war, a far cry from the muskets circa 1791 (when the second amendment came to be) with an effective rate of fire at three rounds per minute.

  5. Motivation is always an interesting quest for the curious to pursue, but it has nothing to do with determining that a huge crime was committed. Who cares what religion or philosophy (if there was one) that a deranged person was following when committing mass murder? The fact is, no matter what a person does, they do it because in that particular moment they think it is the right thing to do. Also doesn’t matter whether what they do is grand or tiny; they do it because they think it’s right. Even if we might know intellectually that it’s wrong, we do it because we feel it’s right, at least for us. Otherwise, we wouldn’t do it. I don’t have a cure for the misguided, but it sure seems that prevention (i.e., limiting the means to accomplish an action) would be a huge help.

    1. Trying to determine what drives the motivation, and how it’s interpreted, is important in these cases because the conclusions will drive the response. I agree that in the grander scheme it doesn’t matter what faith or ideology (if any) the person subscribed to. But there will likely be one set of responses if it’s ultimately labeled a ‘hate crime’ and a different set if it remains characterized as ‘domestic terrorism’. The definitions have become so muddled and politicized over the past decade or so that they really serve little use anymore beyond politics. By responses I mean the political ramifications, and those will matter.

      And as for prevention, yeah. Even the proverbial ounce would be a good start.

      Thanks for contributing.

  6. Great article and interesting comments. You are so right that we outside the US do not understand the inaction of those in power. In fact I don’t understand how the most powerful man in the Western world can want change so much and be unable to make the change happen. I thought the President could act unilaterally on things of such high importance. Or is he also just paying lip service to the idea of implementing tougher gun laws?

    1. He doesn’t have the power to act unilaterally on this. Gun accessibility requires legislation, which he has supported, in various forms, since assuming office; but that requires political will and backbone on the part of congress, both of which are lacking.

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