I was going to post something immediately I heard the news about Orlando, but thought “No, wait and see, don’t shoot from the hip, it’s usually a bad idea”. And, indeed, I’ve seen a lot of posts and TV interviews where people have been proving me correct.
Orlando is a tragedy. With so many killed and injured, there will be hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who are closely affected by the loss of a loved one or friend, or their serious injury, and my heart goes out to them (as do my prayers).
It is particularly a tragedy because it was caused by one human being. And yes, he no doubt had a family and friends who are also traumatised, probably in part by a feeling of guilt that they did not see it coming and do something to prevent it (all I’m actually aware of at the point of writing is his ex-wife, who is trying to find reasons in his history with her which would make sense of this action – and, so far as I can see, failing).
I can understand people’s distaste for the fact that it has immediately become political. But that was always going to happen, and no doubt that was in part the intention of the shooter. The article I link to rather effectively goes through the set of responses which one might expect, in part because they have happened so many times before. They somewhat reflect the seven stages of grief, no doubt deliberately. What is not there, however, is a practical suggestion as to what might be done to make events like this less common in future. Another way in which this is a tragedy is that these mass shootings happen so frequently. The same author in fact provides a suggestion here. I’ll come back to that…
We were, however, always going to ask ourselves “What caused this, and how can we avoid it happening again?”, and that is inevitably political. Despite the attempts of some media to divert attention to the shooter’s espousal of ISIS, the first answer to that has to be homophobia. Hate of homosexuals. If you’re not acting out of homophobia, you don’t target a gay night club; if you’re following ISIS’s normal script of the horrendous decadence of the West, any old nightclub would have done. Or an university… we should not forget that 50 dead is not exceptional by some standards.
It is possible that fundamentalist religious beliefs were a secondary cause; after all, the shooter was Muslim and did announce his adherence to ISIS. However, there is precious little sign that he was an observant Muslim or that he had any contact with radical Islam other than from reading stuff online. That said, fundamentalist Christian beliefs fuel homophobia even better than do fundamentalist Islamic beliefs, and do so far more prominently in the States. If any blame is to be cast on Islam, it probably needs to be equally allocated to Christianity. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is frankly bullshit; if you hate something which is a fundamental aspect of someone’s character (as is sexual orientation) you’re hating the person; the two things are not separable.
The fact that this guy was able to go out and equip himself with guns (and in particular a semi-automatic rifle) despite being on a watch list for potential terrorism and having a history of matrimonial violence is absolutely a cause, and probably a primary cause rather than a secondary one. The possession of semi-automatic weapons makes it possible to kill a lot of people very quickly (as in fact happened); yes, I accept that the unavailability of guns would not have guaranteed this did not happen (he could have bought ingredients and built bombs instead), but he could not go out and buy ready-made anti-personnel bombs. Or at least, I don’t think he could have, even in the States. That would have required patience, planning and some expertise, and while he could have found instructions on the internet, each piece of planning and construction required gives another chance for someone to think better of a course of action. This is something which I completely fail to understand that America has not fixed, although some reasons for that may come out later. The UK and Australia have both reacted to mass shootings with stringent gun control, and neither have had any mass shootings for quite some time…
The thing is, there was an immediate interest in finding that this guy was another Islamic radical terrorist, and then some suggestion that he might have been gay himself. Why? I suggest because either of these would shift blame to a group who could be attacked; so would suggestions that he was mentally ill (frankly, for someone to do that, he would have to be mentally ill in some sense, but the vast majority of the mentally ill are no more dangerous to those around them than the average ostensibly well-balanced person). It would shift blame to an “other”. It would not require any consideration that the average man or woman in the street is in some way responsible for this. If he was, for instance, in fact homosexual, if you’re not LGBT, you could say “Oh, it’s a problem within the LGBT community, it’s not MY problem”. You would, of course, be wrong – the problems of the LGBT community are mostly caused by the attitudes of the non-LGBT community, especially the self-hating which this would argue.
As soon as you identify the problem as being an “other”, there are calls to attack that other. That is where I see a massively widespread malaise in American society, exemplified by the products of its entertainment industry; the solution to a problem is to go and shoot the person or persons responsible. In this thinking, the solution to gun violence is more guns – “It wouldn’t have happened if there had been a good guy with a gun in there” is often the refrain. Well, in fact, there was a “good guy with a gun” in there this time, and he wasn’t able to stop it, and that has been the case in quite a few previous mass shootings.
It seems to me that unless you have a society which doesn’t think that the immediate answer to violence is more violence, there is little or no hope of any change. As Erin Walthen says, “A nation so filled with hate should not be this well armed”; however, this is a nation which is already very well armed and which has the Second Amendment and the bizarre decision in DC. -v- Heller to cope with.
It is also, however, a nation in which a very sizeable proportion of the population want to see themselves as “a good guy with a gun”, if only to protect themselves and their families. I think there are among them a very significant number who see a gun as a penis substitute, but that is perhaps too controversial. However, that brings me back to Jim Wright’s Stonekettle Station post; it may be almost practically correct that the only thing which stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, but that is not the whole story – the only thing (aside from fear of the consequences and the occasional act of heroic nonviolent resistance) which stops a bad guy with a gun is a very highly trained, well practiced, responsible and well balanced guy with a gun (and even that sometimes isn’t enough). So limit the ownership of guns to people who are all of those things, and accepting that people will stray from this, make the consequences sufficiently severe to deter as many as possible. And, in conscience, ban automatic and semi-automatic guns completely except for the military (particularly those which can have a bump stock attached…). There is no justification for these in hunting, and they multiply killing capacity immensely.
There, however, I think the States (and Jim) have a problem. America already locks people up for a very long time and in great numbers compared with other developed nations, and from everything I have seen in prisons which are extremely unpleasant environments. If you’re going to get life in a US jail anyhow (and sentences of as little as ten years may well look like life to some people, and not necessarily just those of advanced years) then a bit more for having a gun, or a lot more for killing someone with it, doesn’t work very well as a deterrent. Also, “suicide by cop” begins to look remarkably attractive when the alternative is US jail for a very long time. There are many other reasons for penal and sentencing reform in the States, but this is definitely one.
What I would like, however, is to convince American Christians that Christianity is in it’s very essence a nonviolent religion, and that a good Christian should not be owning or carrying a gun for personal protection, and should at the very least think twice and three times before joining any service such as the police or military which requires you to carry a weapon. In this, I fancy the Quakers and the Mennonites are the ones who have probably got things right in their scriptural interpretations. America is, by the standards of the UK, overwhelmingly Christian. That would be a good start, even if the peculiar attachment of Americans to the right to bear arms affects the rest of their society. You can do this even without amending the constitution again (or even re-interpreting it more sensibly…)
If you’re American, please take this seriously. It’s hard for the rest of us to watch you killing yourselves.