The never-ending story

The Thinker by Rodin

What more is there to say about this latest mass shooting in Orlando that I haven’t said many times in many other posts? 49 people dead, 50 including the gunman, and more than that injured. This incident has the dubious distinction of being our worst mass shooting in modern history.

There have been worse shootings, if you include Wounded Knee (146 Native Americans dead, and by our own government), possibly the Tulsa Race Riot or pretty much any Civil War battle. At the time those who knew about Wounded Knee were all for it. Indians were not seen as our friends in the 19th century; they got in the way of Manifest Destiny. You’d be hard-pressed to find any Civil War battle that didn’t have at least fifty deaths, which is why this incident is being so carefully qualified.

Most of us normal Americans might like to see a little action for a change rather than our usual inchoate rage that once again will mean nothing will get done to prevent future incidents. That’s currently underway in the United States Senate where Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy started a filibuster to get the Senate to take some action. Democrats seem willing to sustain the filibuster, at least for a while. Even if they get their way, any “gun control” will be so modest as to be laughable. What’s being floated is putting a 72-hour wait on assault weapons purchases by anyone on the terrorist watch list. Any bill that comes out is likely to include a provision that failed last December: to take away federal funding from any city that declare themselves “sanctuary cities”, i.e. don’t allow their police to enforce federal immigration law.

There are a few new things about this latest incident to note. One, this demonstrates that having a good guy with a gun won’t necessarily fix the problem of a bad guy with a gun, so the NRA has been proven wrong on this. There was an Orlando cop on the premises of the Pulse nightclub where these mass deaths and injuries occurred. The Pulse caters to the LGBT and Hispanic community in Orlando. The incident spanned about three hours. The tightly packed nightclub made whatever the officer could do very limited. A semiautomatic rifle trumps anything a police officer is going to keep in their holster. Most of these semiautomatic rifles are capable of magazines with thirty bullets, and it’s not hard to unleash a bullet a second. They are in effect automatic weapons, thus extremely good at inflicting mass casualties very quickly.

There is at least one story of heroism so far: a Marine veteran that opened a back door so others could escape. More such stories are likely in the days ahead. There are also some peculiarities. The assailant, Omar Mateen, had been seen at the club many times and had apparently at least tried to pick up men at the club. So he may well have been gay. It’s possible that cognitive dissonance between his gay identity and his Muslim teachings was central in the carnage that he unleashed.

Mateen may have had been a practicing Muslim, but he was no more a foreign jihadist than my mother (born in Bay City, Michigan) was a Polish immigrant: he was born in New York City, just down the road from where Donald Trump entered the world. It was obviously made tremendously easier because of the easy access in this country to weapons of mass destruction. Mateen used a Sig Sauer MCX, proudly manufactured here in the USA in New Hampshire. It is also likely that Mateen had zero contact with ISIS, who he pledged allegiance to shortly before the attack. This was a Made in America attack.

Some things look sadly familiar. Mateen was relatively young and male and as we see over and over again this is the demographic typical of these mass shooters. However, he wasn’t white and he was a Muslim American (parents from Afghanistan), which is why many assumed he was a terrorist trained by ISIS or Al Qaeda, which Donald Trump seemed to imply. And unsurprisingly there were caution flags all over the man, but not enough checks to keep him from working for a security firm or to easily acquire the semiautomatic weapons he used which he did shortly before the attack. The only thing really new here is the scale of the shooting. That Mateen was unbalanced and prone to violence is pretty obvious from reported episodes of wife beating.

In one of my first posts on gun control, I noted that simply possessing a weapon is dangerous. Possessing a semiautomatic weapon is much more dangerous than possessing a typical firearm because it can wreak much more damage much more quickly. I don’t own a gun not just because I am opposed to it in principle. I know myself well enough that it’s possible I could become mentally sick enough that I could use it, most likely to kill myself. No, I don’t have suicidal thoughts, but depression happens to most people. I’ve had a few mild bouts of it over the years. Prevention is so simple and the easiest one is simply not to own a gun.

Sane people like me though can do a lot to avoid being a victim. I’m unlikely to be attending a gay bar in the wee hours because I hate bars and I’m not gay. One reason I am living in Western Massachusetts is for its relative safety, in spite of Northampton where I live and its large and renown LGBT population. There is a lot of gun control here in Massachusetts. Semiautomatic weapons cannot be bought anywhere in the state, at least legally. Yes, we’ve had terrorist incidents like the Boston Marathon bombing. Curiously no semiautomatic weapons were used, perhaps because they are harder to acquire here.

A community with common sense gun laws is less likely to have these sorts of incidents. A community that shares these values is less likely to foster people attracted to these sorts of crimes. That sort of common sense is missing in Florida where just today reporters for the Huffington Post were able to acquire an AK-15 (similar to the gun used by Mateen) in just 38 minutes. It doesn’t surprise me that most of these incidents happen in states with loose gun laws.

Someday, probably when we have a Democratic House and Senate again, common sense gun laws may go national again. We’d best not hold our breath. History suggests that Mateen’s grisly record is likely to be broken long before we enact real gun control laws again.

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