SAN DIEGO – Welcome to the new gun debate. If liberals aren’t careful, they could wake up one day to discover that the profile of U.S. gun owners has changed so dramatically that a group they’ve always tried to vilify looks an awful lot like groups to which they’ve always pandered.
A few days ago, I heard a self-identified gay man – who was filled with sorrow and rage over the Orlando massacre – tell a conservative talk show host that he was ready to buy a gun. Convinced that our leaders can’t protect him from people who interpret their religion to mean that they should kill people like him, the caller had decided to protect himself.
Gays with guns? Oh yeah, that’s a thing. And, I suspect, it’s about to become a much bigger thing.
How did we get here? It’s all about weakness. Democrats are perceived by many Americans as weak in fighting the war on terror because they’re so enamored with political correctness that they can’t help but mock Republicans for insisting that they use phrases like “radical Islamic extremism.” The left would pay a heavy price for this if Republicans weren’t also seen as weak – when it comes to standing up to the National Rifle Association, which buys their loyalty with millions of dollars in campaign contributions.
Further complicating matters, as Democrats are learning, it’s difficult for politicians to take care of two constituencies at once.
In the aftermath of 29-year-old Omar Mateen walking into an Orlando gay nightclub with a semi-automatic rifle and killing 49 people while wounding 53 others, those on the left have tried to protect Muslim Americans from an angry public backlash. They want to wean Americans off the belief that – in the ominous words of Donald Trump – “there’s something going on” with radicalized elements of the Muslim American community.
And at the same time, Democrats also have to worry about reassuring LGBT Americans that they haven’t been abandoned by a party to which much of that community has given their hopes, ballots and money. It’s not working out very well. Maybe some LGBT activists remember that many Democrats – including Hillary Clinton – were slow to support marriage equality. Or maybe Democrats have, over the years, earned a reputation for taking the LGBT community’s support for granted because Republicans are perceived as worse and more intolerant.
So don’t be surprised if more of that community doesn’t arm itself, and if the issue of fighting terrorism doesn’t surpass transgender bathroom laws and the debate over whether Christian pastry chefs should bake cakes for gay weddings on the list of LGBT priorities for the 2016 presidential election.
It doesn’t help to calm fears that Americans no longer seem to know how to respond when we’re attacked. These days, we don’t come together; we come apart. We don’t seek common ground; we retreat to pet causes and preferred narratives. We don’t confront uncomfortable truths; we do our best to deflect from the real issues to avoid conversations we don’t want to have.
It’s been more than a week since the Orlando massacre and the entire country still wants an answer to one question: “Why?”
Mateen’s motives remain a mystery. And they’re likely to stay that way. Not because FBI agents won’t be able to gather enough evidence and come up with a plausible theory as to what drove Mateen to commit such a horrendous act. But because whatever they come up with will – before it enters the history books – have to survive the meat grinder of finger-pointing, political spin, partisan agendas, damage control and tidy narratives.
For instance, my gay friends and my Muslim American friends agree on one thing: This was a hate crime against those who were different, pure and simple. The former group takes that position because it wants to draw attention to the fact that it has been victimized, the latter because it seems to want to deflect attention away from radical elements in its midst.
But the “hate crime” explanation is neither pure nor simple. It’s true that most of the victims were members of the LGBT community. But they were also Americans. One assumes they were also non-Muslim “infidels.” And most of them were Latino, with about half the victims hailing from Puerto Rico. So why were these poor souls killed? Take your pick.
A hate crime? OK, so these folks were hated. That’s obvious. But what was it about them that stirred the hatred?
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.