The tweet read as follows: “What do the vast majority of mass shootings in the US have in common? Not Islam. Angry men with easy access to guns.”
And then there was another by someone else: Mass murder is as American as apple pie, baseball, Britney Spears, Democrats, chili dogs with cheese & Republicans.”
Both were mordant commentaries – in 140 characters – of the basic issue that confronts the American people and their leaders. America offers easy access to guns. And mass shootings have become a very American news story. Mass shootings have become more common – and deadly – with at least half of the 12 deadliest shootings in the United States happening after 2007. Active shooter incidents are also more frequent. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof said in August 2015 after the on-air slaying of two journalists in Virginia: “More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in American history.”
And yet, Orlando is atypical.
The perpetrator was named Omar Mateen. He was the Muslim son of Afghan immigrants to America. His father, who is reported to have some admiration for the Afghan Taliban, says Mateen hated gay people. His troubled state of mind is obvious from the fact that he rang 911 about 20 minutes into his murderous attack on the Orlando nightclub, pledging allegiance to the extremist group ISIS and mentioning the Tsarnaev brothers who perpetrated the 2013 attack on the Boston Marathon.
Mateen seems to give both the fearful and the fear-mongerer reason to flourish.
First, the fearful. Ordinary people might worry about the hatred that Mateen, a US-born and bred Muslim, showed for his fellow Americans. The murderous revulsion he betrayed – in common with many conservative Muslims, Christians and other orthodox people – for gay people. Ordinary Americans might legitimately wonder if Mateen’s pledge of fealty to ISIS says something dark and troubling about Muslims in general, of whom there are 3.3 million (or one per cent of the population) in America.
Second, the fear-mongerer. Republican Party presidential hopeful Donald Trump. Republican senators Ted Cruz, Jeff Sessions and Marco Rubio. Trump has revived his call for a “ban” on Muslims entering the US, without troubling to explain how this would have prevented the US-born Mateen from massacring his fellowmen.
Cruz has repeated Trump’s call for America to end political correctness, which presumably means appending the brutal description of “terrorist”, “terrorist-lover”, “soon-to-be terrorist” when speaking of Muslims? Oh, and compiling a national register of Muslims. And requiring them to check in with the police every week. Or possibly internment camps in Dearborn, Michigan and in Minneapolis and “Little Syria” in New York?
Rubio, who is senator for Florida, serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and competed against Trump and Cruz for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, has added this asinine insight to the fear-mongering about Muslims: This is “the new face of the war on terror…(Mateen was) an individual who was either directed or probably in all likelihood, inspired to take on this attack by some radical Islamist element.”
He added that it’s not about the weapons that Mateen used – a handgun and an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle – but about the motivation.
Except that it is and it isn’t. There is no doubt that Mateen was Muslim, full of hatred for gay and black people, mentally disturbed enough to contemplate and execute mass murder and deluded enough to pledge allegiance to a brutal terrorist group. That puts him in the ranks of all the crazy people who commit massacres. But could Mateen have killed so many people without an assault weapon, which is to say a semi-automatic firearm?
No. Till September 2004, a ban on the manufacture for civilian use of certain assault weapons was in place. After it expired, the extremist politics of the gun lobby prevented its renewal.
Orlando was the result of extremism. Of two sorts.