Forty-nine people have died and 53 more are wounded following the largest mass shooting in modern American history, which happened Sunday morning between 2-5AM EST.
The shooting took place at a LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The suspected shooter is Omar Mateen, an American citizen who was shot and killed in a SWAT assault after he took hostages.
The shooting in Orlando is now the deadliest mass murder in American history by a shockingly wide margin. But that fact alone will not make this tragedy stand out for what is likely to be decades: Orlando will be remembered because it gets to the heart of every gun-crime conversation in the nation.
The killer was a US-born Muslim whose last act before the shooting was a pledge to ISIS via a 911 call.
He is the son of Afghani immigrants, one of who has supported the Mujahedeen since coming to the United States. His ex-wife has described him “mentally unstable” and abusive, his boss as a homophobic racist and his coworker as full of hate and “toxic.” His father described him as having a deep resentment for the LGBT community as well as having little interest in his Afghan heritage. The FBI investigated him three times for possible links to jihadi terrorism, but he was cleared.
He was also a licensed security guard, which is why he was allowed to buy both his weapons- including the same type of assault rifle that was used in the Newton massacre- legally.
Since the shooting ended, President Obama has described this attack as both a terrorist act and a massive hate crime against the LGBT community. Although ISIS did not immediately take responsibility for the crime (and have a history of trying to take credit for attacks that they did not organize), the killer’s pledge to the caliphate will be confirmation enough to many that “radical Islamic terrorism” is the primary source of this attack.
So this is the situation that the American public faces: perhaps for the first time, they are gazing down the barrel of hate-filled violence where both liberal and conservative fears seem justified following the most horrific shooting in our history.
This killer, a mentally unstable, radicalized American Muslim who bought his weapons legally to carry out a hate crime after pledging allegiance to a terrorist organization, is the ultimate boogeyman for both sides of the coin.
One side will, rightly, suggest that this yet another example of just how desperately we need to enact new laws that make getting guns harder for murderers like this to attain. They will also point out that the anti-LGBT rhetoric of the American right (including that of Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick) has very real and horrific consequences.
The other side, also on firm ground, will see this crime as confirmation of the insidious threat of Islamic radicalism, which has put the safety of all Americans at risk. That side will suggest that what we need now is a more aggressive approach to ISIS (although details may be light) and an even more heavily armed populace. We need more “Good Guys With Guns” because terrorism is real, they will say, as is Islamic radicalism in the United States.
The problem with that logic is that this man bought his weapons legally after the FBI investigation, and was even employed by a company that required two background checks before allowing him to be armed.
Before this shooting, he was a “Good Guy With A Gun.” He was an American being paid to provide security to other Americans. According to his ex-wife, he aspired to be a police officer.
The threat here is that even as ISIS loses ground to a coalition of local and international forces, it still has the power- mainly through social media- to encourage lone-wolf attacks anywhere on the globe. Even after ISIS is defeated, the threat of its dedicated supporters and ideological constituents will remain, only less visible and more difficult to target with airstrikes and ground troops.
Can liberal Americans, who want to eliminate all gun ownership in the United States, really blame other Americans who want stronger personal defense in the face of global terrorism? This attack, along with those in Paris and San Bernardino reminds all of us that “terrorism” is as omnipotent a threat as ever, even as it becomes more challenging for authorities to define and predict.
Can conservative Americans, who are in the middle of an attack of their own on the LGBT community, really suggest that it is a violation of their rights to make it harder for someone investigated by the FBI to buy a firearm? This attack, along with those of Charleston and San Bernardino, ought to be a reminder that those who wish to terrorize through murder have used the weakness of America’s gun laws against its citizens.
Those are the two questions that both sides of the political spectrum will have to face after Orlando. Considering the current political climate, it is almost certain that the loudest voices on both sides will be unable to answer them honestly or with any hope at achieving a damn thing- before the election in November, at least.
There has already been discussion on which of the two top contenders for the White House- Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton- will gain political points out of this tragedy.
Trump, per usual, seized a highly politicized moment to brag about himself on twitter: “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!”
Clinton sent a more conciliatory tone in her first tweet: “Woke up to hear the devastating news from FL. As we wait for more information, my thoughts are with those affected by this horrific act.”
As an American, I can tell you that although a few points in the polls will slip from here to there, the reality is that both sides of the Gun Debate, the LGBT Rights Debate, the Debate on Racism and the Debate on Terror will be farther apart than ever before, with a valley of death and fear between them.
Featured Image: Orlando Police officers direct family members away from a fatal shooting at Pulse Orlando nightclub early Sunday. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)
This article was originally published in Alondon in June 2016