I’ve chosen the Orlando shooting to open this blog because I think it sets the stage for the discussions I’d like to have, and I think it’s an event that deserves especially cautious interpretation. To date, the actions of an (apparently) ISIS-associated gunman in a gay club in Orlando early Sunday have claimed about 50 lives, making it the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. There are many hazards going forward in our interpretation of this event, and I’d like to lend my voice to the discussion. In this blog I plan to humbly offer potential solutions along with my analysis, but there is no new solution to this problem so I won’t offer my thoughts in that direction (though I have many).
In one way, our country is of one voice regarding these shootings: they are a tragedy, they are terroristic, and they must be prevented. In another, the responses begin to diverge when it comes to prevention. Politics dictate that some people be careful not to blame the ease of access to guns by a suspected terrorist with a criminal record. That some people avoid mentioning our country’s overseas actions; that others focus on them. That Islam be prosecuted or defended.
The terrible truth is that events like these involve too many variables to justify the confidence born of our current political culture. It is right for us to seek truth, to brainstorm and guess, but maybe not right for us to tout our expertise about the future. The confidence displayed in public opinion always glosses over messy truths: If more civilians in nightclubs were armed, perhaps more petty arguments in nightclubs would lead to shootings while fewer mass-shootings would go unstopped for so long. If it was harder to get assault weapons, the shooter would have had some additional degree of difficulty obtaining them. The small number of people that don’t want this restriction have reasons that aren’t without merit – they fear a slippery slope, they fear the possibility of dictatorial rule without the possibility of an armed rebellion. Subsets of Islam encourage violence, as subsets of most religions have, and discriminating against Muslims would probably prevent some terrorism while fundamentally compromising our ideas of freedom and liberty in this country (and possibly proliferating new terrorism). Military action in the Middle East has doubtlessly crushed some threats to the U.S. and created many others, with the best course forward being unclear. The magnitude of these effects and risks are very hard to guess.
The horrible happenings in Orlando will inevitably be a significant part of the discourse surrounding the presidential and other U.S. electoral races. The candidates will assign blame that fits into their narratives, and do little to address counterarguments. Certain groups, like the NRA leadership, will have an outsized voice because of political happenstance. It is our job as potential voters to wade through this rhetoric without letting it consume us. Events like the Orlando shooting, and reactions thereto, can inform our thoughts about a candidate or a party but they must not distract us from a focus on the potential outcomes of our vote.
The targeting of a gay nightclub brings terror to a safe place for people who every day have to confront various assaults on their identity. The timing of this violence during Pride Month only serves to emphasize the depth of this wound. A community already disenfranchised is hit hard by the further removal of their ability to feel safe. But the LGBTQ community is a particularly strong one. There are many who “came out” in times and places where there was near certainty they would be rejected from their given society. When I think about, for example, the bravery involved in transitioning one’s gender in a society that assigns so much of identity based on the assumption that gender is immutable, I am always in awe. In fact, there may be no better or stronger community in the United States to resist the intimidation of terrorism.
What I hope Americans will focus on in response to this event are the plights we humans are all in together. We are all different in ways that have brought us shame. We all notice each other’s differences and assign levels of trust and kindness based on them. But we are all united by our need for food and comfort and community, our fear of isolation and death. We have more interests in common with terrorist, victim, or politician than we like to admit. Our solutions should be formed as common ground, not with a disregard for the possibility of other opinions.