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Wake Up, America. We Allowed Orlando To Happen

Terry DeCarlo, executive director of the LGBT Center of Central Florida, center, is comforted by Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, right, after a shooting involving multiple fatalities at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)
Terry DeCarlo, executive director of the LGBT Center of Central Florida, center, is comforted by Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, right, after a shooting involving multiple fatalities at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)
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By now, we all know the basic facts. In the wee hours of Sunday morning, a 29-year-old man named Omar Mateen shot and killed 49 people, and injured dozens more, by opening fire in an Orlando nightclub frequented by gay patrons.

Twenty minutes before the attack, Mateen called 911 to pledge his allegiance to ISIS, and mentioned the Boston Marathon bombers. The FBI had investigated Mateen twice for possible terrorist ties, in 2013 and 2014. Despite this, he was able to legally purchase a handgun and a semi-automatic assault rifle the week of the attack.

This is how the United States manufactures terror.

It is the historical moment in which a sane and rational population must recognize that we are no longer simply the “victims” of terror, but its sponsors. We can complain all we want about the gun lobby or the National Rifle Association or the cynical politicians who do their bidding.

It is the historical moment in which a sane and rational population must recognize that we are no longer simply the “victims” of terror, but its sponsors.

But we, as a population, have allowed this to happen. Over and over again, we bear witness to the senseless slaughter of innocents — in homes, in offices, in elementary schools and houses of worship.

Nearly every one of these tragedies tells the same story: an unhinged person, fueled by some toxic cocktail of resentments, legally acquires instruments of murder.

The Orlando shooting was the deadliest such massacre in recent U.S. history. It was also the seventh shooting this week. There were five mass shootings on the day before Mateen’s attack.

Our neighbors in Canada have had eight mass shootings — in 20 years.

In the days and weeks to come, we’ll hear lots of speculation about Mateen’s motives — about his alleged relationship to terrorists, and his alleged homophobia.

An injured man is escorted out of the Pulse nightclub after the shooting rampage. (Steven Fernandez/AP)
An injured man is escorted out of the Pulse nightclub after the shooting rampage. (Steven Fernandez/AP)

But his motives aren’t the issue here. His means of killing are. The reason he was able to kill so many people so quickly is because he opened fire with an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle — the same model used in the San Bernardino and Sandy Hook massacres — a device whose sole purpose is to many people very quickly. The phrase that leaps to mind is weapon of mass destruction.

We’ll spend billions of dollars, and the lives of countless American soldiers, to rid other countries of such weapons. But here in the U.S. of A, we have placed easy access to tools of death over public safety. We are, in fact, the only country in the developed world that has failed to pass sensible gun legislation.

As a result, we have become a state sponsor of terrorism: senseless, self-inflicted and perpetual.

It has become abundantly clear that our political system is incapable of legislating sensible gun legislation — a ban on assault weapons, for instance, as well as mandatory background checks.

The only way such measures will be introduced and passed, therefore, is if the electorate demands it. Individual voters must force individual candidates — at the local, state and federal level — to declare precisely which gun control measures, if any, they support. Voters must then refuse to support any politician who remains beholden to the gun lobby.

If we want to stem the tide of mass shootings in America, we must first turn out those politicians who continue to traffic in vigilante myths and paranoid rantings about Second Amendment rights.

If we want to stem the tide of mass shootings in America, we must first turn out those politicians who continue to traffic in vigilante myths and paranoid rantings about Second Amendment rights. The men who wrote the Bill of Rights wrote of militias with muskets, not maniacs with AR-15s. As a rule, colonists didn’t regard hunting as a hobby. It was a means of survival.

In today’s America, insecure loners use deadly weapons to transform themselves into triumphant martyrs. Just as school shooters have cited the Columbine murderers as inspirations, American-bred terrorists will someday cite Mateen.

But there should be no confusion about why these crimes take place. They take place because we, as Americans, continue to define liberty as a virtually unconditional right to acquire the tools of mass murder. In so doing, we safeguard the rights of mass murderers over their victims.

Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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