Thoughts on the Orlando Massacre

You’ll probably know by now that more than 50 people were murdered overnight in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The gunman (dead after a shootout with police) is identified as Omar Mateen, a native-born American citizen whose parents are from Afghanistan.

The whole thing is unspeakable horrific, and the set of known facts is quickly expanding as details continue to emerge. What follows are some of my initial thoughts in response to a couple of things that have been said in the immediate aftermath of the incident.

  1. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said (among many other things) that this incident was “something that we never imagined and is unimaginable.”

Really? Unimaginable? Perhaps Mayor Dyer is simply in shock; perhaps he was speaking with little preparation; perhaps he didn’t think too closely about the exact meaning of the word “unimaginable.” But, in 2016 America the MOST IMAGINABLE THING POSSIBLE is that mass shootings can and do occur in any place at any time. Mass shootings (let’s define as at least three dead per incident) have been commonplace in America for decades. They occur in restaurants, movie theaters, shopping malls, schools, universities, nightclubs, churches and private homes. There is one gun for every man, woman and child in America. But there is virtually no social or political will to reduce the number of available guns, to regulate the types and capacities of guns, or to increase the legally required training or restrictions for those who wish to own them. Given this constellation of facts, how can anyone say that gun violence in general and mass shootings in particular are surprising, shocking, unpredictable or unimaginable? (If there is any silver lining in this dark cloud, it’s that overall gun violence in America is actually down, although mass shootings are way up. In any case, there’s no excuse not to increase our efforts to reduce the numbers of deaths from this most preventable of causes. )

Also, it’s a safe bet to assume, even before the facts are in, that Omar Mateen obtained all his weapons and ammunition through legal means, rendering meaningless and absurd any declarations by the National Rifle Association about laws and regulations serving only to disarm the “good guys” and empower the “bad guys.” [Update: Turns out Mateen was a professional security guard, licensed to carry, who did purchase his weapons through legal means.]

2. Omar Mateen’s father issued a statement expressing sympathy for his son’s victims, denying that the family had any knowledge of his plans, and declaring that the shooting “had nothing to do with religion.” But he noted that his son “got angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami a couple of months ago and thinks that may be related to the shooting.”

I’m going to go out on a limb right now and say that this attack had EVERYTHING TO DO WITH RELIGION. In America, 99% of objection to gay rights (not to speak of objection to gay existence) is fueled by religion, mostly Christianity but also by Islam. Sure, it’s possible Omar Mateen was grossed out by the sight of two men kissing one another, but is it possible that he engineered the worst mass shooting in US history simply because he got the heebie jeebies? No, it’s another safe bet to assume that will we discover that Mateen had somehow been radicalized and plotted his attack in solidarity with ISIS or some other Muslim extremist group. (ISIS has reportedly called on the pious to commit terrorist acts during the “holy” month of Ramadan.) I will be surprised and shocked (if I may use those terms) if we discover his motivation was garden variety mental illness, mere revulsion or even jealousy. [Update: Mateen called 911 during his attack and stated his allegiance to ISIS. Further information reveals that he had a history of making disturbing statements relating to Islam, and was twice investigated by authorities, who for some reason decided he posed no threat. It also appears Mateen had–at the very least–anger management issues, so mental illness cannot be ruled out as a major contributing factor to his crime.] The only thing that suprises me more about this whole situation, frankly, is that a similar atrocity hasn’t already been perpetrated by some overzealous Christian.

To sum up, nothing about this incident should come as a surprise to any of us. We should also not be surprised when (especially during this contentious election year) nothing is done to try to prevent, or even attenuate, such things from happening in the future. Americans will continue to embrace guns for the forseeable future, and as a result will have to continue to deal with the consequences.

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