In the midst of Pride Month, a week into Ramadan, days after the burial of the beloved American Muslim Muhammad Ali, America woke on Sunday to yet another unbearable slaughter, the deadliest mass shooting yet in modern U.S. history.
So much loss. So much fear. Such terrible grief and resignation. At least 50 people have so far been declared dead in the attack on a popular gay club in Orlando, in what President Barack Obama wearily termed “an act of terror and an act of hate.”
The shooter, Omar Mateen, was said to have stormed into the Pulse nightclub at 2 a.m. and opened fire on the crowd just before last call, holing up for hours before police stormed the building with an armored vehicle and killed him. Mateen was an American citizen born in New York to Afghan immigrant parents, and the immediate comparison was to San Bernardino and Paris, where homegrown radical Islamists committed similar mass carnage.
The Islamic State had encouraged lone wolf attacks during the holy month – the better, supposedly, to reap some sick afterlife glory. Officials said Mateen called 911 before the attack, ranting about the Islamic State and the Boston Marathon bombers; terrorists later claimed credit on an encrypted phone app.
We are a nation unmatched in our diversity and in the violence of our culture. It is critical that we cherish the former and curb the latter. Tragically, in past incidents such as this, the opposite has been true.
Or perhaps radicalism was only a pretext. Mateen’s ex-wife called him unstable and abusive, and his father told NBC News that the 29-year-old man had seen two men kiss in public not long ago and had become “very angry.”
There is other context as well, much of it sadly familiar. Orlando police said they recovered an “AR-15-type” assault rifle from the shooter. That was, of course, the weapon used by James Holmes to mow down a crowd of moviegoers in Colorado. And by Adam Lanza to murder a room full of schoolchildren in Connecticut. And by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, to kill 14 terrified people at a luncheon for county employees in San Bernardino.
The Orlando assailant, like so many in this obscenely armed nation, had legally acquired his combat-grade firearms, despite the fact the FBI had twice investigated him for possible terrorist connections. Whatever questions there are about Mateen’s motive, it is clear that had lethal weapons been less easy to come by in this country, his violent fantasies couldn’t have been so effectively carried out.
With a presidential campaign underway, the national security vs. gun control debate will no doubt be repeatedly rehashed. Our position is that the nation needs strong anti-terrorism efforts, including a stronger coalition of allies, and tougher restrictions on firearms.
“Appreciate the congrats on being right on radical Islamic terrorism,” the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump, predictably tweeted.
“My thoughts are with those affected by this horrific act,” wrote gun control advocate Hillary Clinton.
Our thoughts are with the victims, too. We are a nation unmatched in our diversity and in the violence of our culture. It is critical that we cherish the former and curb the latter.
Tragically, the opposite has been true in past incidents such as this; gun sales have soared and intolerance has worsened. It was deeply moving Sunday to see the turnout in Orlando of blood donors, who overwhelmed blood banks in an effort to do something, anything, that was meaningful and united.
But real change feels far away. Sadly, Sunday’s attack also came in the wake of a cynical new campaign by a National Rifle Association-supported group in California. Its message? That a gun control initiative headed for the November ballot should scare people and spur gun sales – in the LGBT community.