Sunday saw yet another act of mass violence in the name of hate—this time directed at LGBTQ Americans and ranked as the worst mass shooting in US history. Yet another tragic occasion that some gun rights activists will say was fabricated to fuel the liberal government’s attempts to take away their guns. Another occasion to shift the story from the deadliness of guns to terrorism or religious extremism or mental illness.
As John Oliver said in the somber preamble to his HBO show last night, “this pain is so familiar.”
After white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, almost exactly a year ago, President Obama asked us to confront our dysfunctional relationship with guns and the epidemic of prejudice that ails America [emphasis added]:
At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. And at some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.
The fact that this took place in a black church obviously also raises questions about a dark part of our history. This is not the first time that black churches have been attacked. And we know that hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals.
Yesterday, after Omar Mateen killed fifty people and wounded at least fifty-three others (many of whom were people of color) at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Obama reminded us that LGBTQ individuals are Americans and equality is an American value [emphasis added].
This is an especially heartbreaking day for all our friends—our fellow Americans—who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live. The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub—it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.
So this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American—regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation—is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country. And no act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans.
This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.
The time has come to confront our cognitive dissonance about what being American is, and what our priorities should be. When we have time to fight over who’s allowed to use the bathroom of their choice and who can be refused a business’s services based on the owner’s religious beliefs, why can’t we address the deadly connection between hate and access to guns?
To everyone who feels threatened by gun control, explain it to me. I am bewildered that your hearts aren’t breaking, that you aren’t outraged that massive acts of violence against fellow Americans are happening in our own backyards, sanctioned by our daily inaction to prevent access to lethal arms. Even if you do share the pain, why are guns so fundamental to your core identity as a person, or as an American? In your zeal to customize and keep weapons, to embrace arguments about self-defense and the right to bear arms, and to stay in the outdated and unreasonable tit-for-tat arms race method of approaching fellow humans, can you really not accept that guns are deadly?
You might say that religiously motivated hate fueled this latest attack and I won’t argue that cultural and religious factors fuel extreme prejudice. And yes, it’s a problem that we cannot talk about homophobia in Islam to the left and about homophobia in Christianity to the right without outraged defenses of a religious identity as a whole, but what’s more outrageous is we cannot talk about the fact that a gun, legally or illegally obtained, kills people. It is designed to kill people in an efficacious way and it will do what it was designed to do in the hands of someone whose objective is to kill people for their ideology.
The National Rifle Association has donated nearly 3 million dollars to members of Congress. Forty-one of the fifty states have at least one active member of Congress who has received a donation from the NRA.
I have previously written of guns and hate crimes, using statistics to plead my case, to the ire of many of AHA’s Facebook followers.
More alarmingly, of the hate crimes that occurred between 2010 and 2014, CAP calculates that around 43,000 involved a gun, representing a trend towards use of firearms over explosives by domestic “lone wolf” terrorists. This is consistent with the Anti-Defamation League’s 2015 report, which found that the number of Americans killed by domestic terrorists in events similar to those that occurred in Charleston, Chattanooga, Colorado Springs, and San Bernardino was higher than in any other year since 1995 (the year of the Oklahoma City bombing). …Guns are easier to access and the convenience of procuring a gun heavily outweighs the risk and hassle of DIY explosives. Guns are also more lethal, according to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), which states that “firearms are more often used in attacks aimed at causing human causalities. In the United States between 1970 and 2014, the average percentage of terrorist attacks that were lethal was 4 percent if the attack did not involve firearms and 40 percent if the attack did involve firearms.”
And I could go on. I could talk of how many suicide attempts are now suicides because of guns. But today is not the time for statistics. It is time for moral outrage, outrage that fellow human beings have been targeted because of who they love and because they want to live authentically. Yesterday was Loving Day—the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision forty-nine years ago that finally allowed interracial couples to marry—and what’s on everyone’s mind is this violent and hateful act of mass violence, perpetrated against innocent people merely because of who they love, and made possible through the legal purchase of an AR-15-style weapon.
It’s time for that outrage to fuel action, the way that suffering a trauma does—to grieve, to stand strong, to pass legislation protecting Americans from the use of deadly weapons just because we can’t find commonality as human beings or embrace differences as nonthreatening to our own identities.
I agree with John Oliver: “I will happily embrace a Latin night at a gay club at the theme park capital of the world as the ultimate symbol of what is truly great about America.”