June 22, 2016 3:27 pm | Updated 9 months ago.
There have been few instances in modern human history when a particular occurrence has replicated itself without society stepping in to remedy the root cause and stem repetition. Most recently, mass killings have become synonymous with America as is the iPhone and neoliberal capitalism.
While policy makers have rushed to judgment on both sides of the argument, it seems quite often that for all the chatter generated after every event, we are left with precious little to show for how an iteration of heartbreak, pain and suffering can be avoided in the future.
On June 12, 2016, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, entered Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, armed with an SIG-Sauer MCX (a semi-automatic rifle) and a 9mm Glock 17 handgun. After a three-hour standoff with the police, 50 people were dead including Mateen.
According to reports, Mateen entered the establishment and immediately opened fire. Pulse is a popular gay nightclub in Orlando, which was hosting Latin Night – a weekly Saturday-night event drawing a primarily Hispanic crowd – for roughly 350 people on this evening. This incident marked the deadliest act of violence against the LGBTQ community in the United States and has since been widely denounced as an act of terrorism and a hate crime.
In nearly eight years of the current administration in the White House, there have been seven mass killings in which casualties were in double digits. During his two terms, President Obama has given more speeches in the aftermath of a mass murder than State of the Union addresses.
While various reasons have been provided regarding the sudden bursts of violence in America, there has been a certain commonality in every incident – firearms and ammunition. Guns have killed more Americans since 1968 than in all the U.S. wars wrote Nicholas Kristoff in a New York Times column – a fact that was checked and ratified by Politifact. With such statistics in mind, it is disingenuous to overlook the endemic issue of guns in the possession of angry and, at times, psychologically unstable individuals in America.
At this point, if you’re a gun owner or enthusiast, you’re probably rolling your eyes at yet another piece of writing that is critical of gun ownership by civilians. However, it is important to understand that an unsavory subject cannot be ignored forever, especially due to the regularity of mass shootings popping up in the national discussion. Not because people have an ulterior agenda of encroaching on the 2nd Amendment, but because ordinary Americans are losing their lives consistently when the country is not in at war.
This mass shooting in Orlando is an event that requires some deconstruction in order to clear a path for meaningful discussion. There are several aspects at play that need to be talked about. Let’s look into the two big points of discussion.
But He Was A Terrorist
Shortly after entering the building and opening fire, Mateen was on a 9-1-1 call in which he swore allegiance to ISIL (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). After the incident, ISIL promptly claimed responsibility for the Orlando attack. The FBI has previously questioned Mateen on two occasions but did not find probable cause to press charges or initiate legal proceedings. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) said it found no links between Mateen and ISIL.
There have been unsubstantiated claims made by survivors who claim to have heard Mateen yell, “I don’t have a problem with black people” and that he “wouldn’t stop his assault until America stopped bombing his country.” Other survivors reported Mateen claiming to have an explosive device strapped to his body and that there were snipers positioned outside the club.
From all the intelligence available today, it can be safely assumed that Mateen, although disillusioned, did not have any direct links to terrorist organizations. But all the information in the world could not stop agenda-driven news outlets and its wildly speculative audience from focusing solely on terrorism, immigration and Islam.
Such responses shouldn’t come as a surprise in a presidential election year when the Republican Party nominee for president has repeatedly suggested banning immigration for those of the Muslim faith, patrolling neighborhoods that have a predominantly Muslim population and surveilling Mosques.
How Did He Get The Guns?
According to official reports, Mateen purchased a Sig Sauer .223 caliber assault rifle at a firearms shop near his Florida home, St. Lucie Gun Sales, on June 4 and then a Glock 17 at the same store on June 5. He then returned for a third time on June 9th to buy magazines for the weapons.
Since the store is a federally licensed firearm store, under the law, the store owner should have notified the FBI of Mateen’s purchased and his name would have been checked against the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.
Mateen was on two federal watch lists: The Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, which contains classified information, and the Terrorist Screening Database, which is the FBI’s central watch list. Mateen’s name would have been checked against the latter but wouldn’t have raised any red flags as his name was removed in 2014.
The sales were approved for legally purchased firearms that Mateen used on the bloody Sunday to gun down defenseless civilians at a nightclub. There was another firearm purchased – a revolver capable of firing only six shots – which was found in Mateen’s van.
As we can see from this incident, it is neither a clear case of traditional terrorism nor would the existing laws on guns have any effect on Mateen’s access to weapons of mass murder.
America faces a predicament, which is strange as it is pressing. While the U.S. is bombing ISIL strongholds in Syria with some success, and assistance from the Kurds on the ground, the once menacing non-state actors have been forced to scale back its hold on the Middle East. But ISIL is not a traditional terror organization. Unlike its predecessors, social media outreach has been one of ISIL’s most effective recruitment tactic and means for disseminating propaganda.
After 9/11, America has not faced any acts of terror perpetrated by foreign nationals. But ISIL has successfully capitalized on radicalizing embittered youth in the United States through the Internet. America and the coalition of nations against ISIL might be gaining back territory in the Middle East but it is losing the battle at home.
On June 13, FBI DirectorJames Comey told reporters, “So far, we see no indication that this was a plot directed from outside the United States and we see no indication that he was part of any kind of network.” He said the U.S. Intelligence Community was, “highly confident that this killer was radicalized at least in part through the Internet.”
How to address this issue is the million-dollar question America is avoiding because there are no simple solutions. Unlike carpet-bombing other countries, domestic policy is subject to judicial oversight and constitutionality. The NSA initiated its mass surveillance program under the pretext of fishing out domestic radicals capable of terrorism but it was neither effective nor entirely legal.
On the aspect of guns, Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly said it best on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, the day after the Orlando shooting. O’Reilly said that Congressional leaders must work to craft bipartisan legislation which seeks to remove semi-automatic weapons from the civilian population.
Instead of pushing blanket legislation, Congress must first go through the extent of weapons that are sold legally on the market and reasonably agree on what should and should not be part of the American social fabric. We can all agree that while the 2nd Amendment provides individuals the right to bear arms, it certainly does not allow mass murder. On that note, I agree with Mr. O’Reilly – a disposition that is rarer than Halley’s comet.
In the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, Democratic Senators staged a last-minute filibuster to add two gun control measures aimed at restricting gun sales to individuals on the no-fly list and closing a loophole that allows for a subverting background check at gun shows by private sellers. While the latter is a worthy cause, the former has met with justified opposition from all directions. Since the “no fly list” is not publicly available, anybody can be placed on the list without warning.
Senators, journalists, and artists have all been victims of embarrassing mistakes courtesy the no-fly list. In 2012, Jet Blue removed an 18-month-old child from a flight before takeoff because the name of the child appeared on the list.Even the ACLU has voiced its concern against the proposal.
The bill containing the two proposals is not expected to pass in Congress, although Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn) and his colleagues have, after a fifteen-hour-long filibuster, convinced the Republican majority in the Senate to vote on the measures. It is perhaps the archetypical Congressional response of rushing in without careful thought after a national tragedy.
Violent rampage in America is not a new phenomenon and certainly won’t disappear in the near future. The problem is layered and far more nuanced than activists and politicians lead us to believe. But the most important step requires having meaningful discussions on acute issues of guns, violence and radicalization.
In December 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza left an entire nation bewildered by murdering 20 innocent elementary school children between the ages of 6 and 7, and six adult staff members with a semi-automatic rifle. We mourned, cried and sought justice in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre but nothing was done. Lanza’s actions were not politically motivated and he did not pledge allegiance to any terrorist organization.
America failed to protect it’s most innocent and vulnerable on that day and it sends a cold, dark and spine-chilling message from the richest country in the world to its citizens.
Once again we are at the point where we must address underlying causes to the violence, but once again vitriolic rhetoric from opposing groups and powerful lobbyists is sidetracking every discussion that needs to take place.
We may not have all the answers at the turn of the page and not every legislative action will lead to exemplary changes, but not doing anything will certainly not bring any relief from the recurring heartbreak and national shame. Change always has a starting point and before commencing the process of tackling uncomfortable subjects, we must first admit there is a problem.
Author: Srijan Sen