An act of senseless violence was committed in the US this week. An individual named Omar Mateen did it. I’m not here to add fuel to the bonfire of suppositions, opinions and unfounded speculation about why Mateen carried out this attack or its consequences.
What I want to talk about from the perspective of this channel is what I watched happen in the news and social media within the first hours and days of the attack happening. It’s become an all-too-familar parade of all the usual suspects: minute-by-minute updates on CNN and Fox of regurgitated facts and guesses. So-called experts and talkings heads filling up time babbling about what the shooter’s motives may have been, why gun control and the 2nd amendment are so controversial, what the response is from the White House, blah blah blah.
What isn’t going to happen as a result of all this noise is a solution being put forward that is going to stop this from happening again. And I’m going to tell you why.
It takes days or even weeks for evidence to be gathered and actual facts to start being collected, but that doesn’t stop anyone and everyone from jumping to conclusions based on the flimsiest of reasons. Within minutes of this hitting the news, opportunists were all over this incident to forward their agendas, no matter how hard they have to work to make their square pegs fit into round holes. It was all about homophobia. It was all about Islamic terrorism. It was all about mental health. It was Donald Trump preening over how right he was about Muslim immigrants. Following rapidly on the heels of all this was finger pointing at the NRA and gun enthusiasts for allowing this to happen in the first place. The NRA’s response? That this tragedy was the result of “the Obama administration’s political correctness” while being loudly silent about the fact that legislation which could have prevented Mateen from purchasing assault weapons in the first place was blocked by Senate Republicans last December.
Then come all the responses to this endless torrent of noise, responding to all these suppositions as though they were fact or trying to head it off before it got too out of control. Calls to support gay rights were met with homophobic tweets and videos. Accusations of Islamic terrorism were met with #NotAllMuslims and public statements by US-based Muslim groups advocating for understanding. On and on and on.
Meanwhile, all of us watch this and wonder Why? Why did this man murder all these people? There has to be some reason. There must be some logical and valid reason that this madman purchased these weapons and used them to senselessly take so many people’s lives, right? We strive to find some meaning, some label we can put on this so that our world can make sense again. It’s like an itch you can’t scratch in the back of your mind, an almost physically painful sensation that demands an answer. Why? Why?
Until we get that answer, we have to watch and talk and comment. We are compelled to keep pondering and wondering and looking. Finally, amidst all the noise, something pops up that fills the void. He hated gays. That’s what it was. He was a self-hating closet homosexual, so of course he did what he did. Or no, maybe that doesn’t do it for you but learning that he called 911 and swore allegiance to the Islamic State settles the matter once and for all. Ah yes, a Muslim sympathizer. Of course he killed all those people. We all know how violent and awful all Muslims are and how they secretly want to kill everyone in the United States, so that explains everything.
It doesn’t even matter whether the reasons we accept are actually true. That’s not what’s important. What’s important is that whatever the reason, it fits in with how we already view the world and how we look at Middle Eastern people named Omar Mateen and why we think such a person would do such a horrible thing. Deep down, we know that we are utterly ignorant of everything about this man, his life and his motives. Yesterday, he was no one to us. For most people watching this, Omar Mateen was not someone you would ever run into even by chance. Today, we pretend we are intimately familiar with him and his life because we have watched some soundbytes or read about him on Facebook. We don’t think too hard about it lest we realize that if anyone tried to reduce us to a simpleton label such as “commie liberal” or “God-fearing housewife” that we might just have something to say about it, that we are so much more than that.
My point is not to sympathize with this killer. He was a horrible human being who carried out an evil act of the most despicable nature. There is no reason to think anything kind or good or noble about Omar Mateen and for the rest of history, he will be correctly remembered as a monster.
Yet when we put this person in a box and say “Ah, that explains it” we stop thinking and for most of us, we stop doing. We shake our heads, move on with our lives and hope that the next Omar Mateen that comes along isn’t someone we know or anyone who lives in our neighborhood. We are crossing our fingers and whistling past the graveyard.
Imagine you have a hole in your roof and when it rains, water comes pouring in and you’re left with an enormous puddle. You take a squeegie and you push some of the water this way and some of the water that way and some more in this other direction until all the water is scattered about and you don’t have a puddle there anymore. You’re vaguely satisfied because you can’t see the water but you’re also uneasy because you haven’t actually gotten rid of any it. In the back of your mind, you think that it’s possible it could all come back or it could rain again, but hey, everything is all right now so why worry about what could happen? With the water all gone, you forget all about that hole in the roof. If you think about it all, you think what a nice hole it is because it lets some sunlight in from time to time. It’s easy to forget about it in the hustle and bustle of everything else you have to do anyway.
All the media noise and pundits and finger pointing and all the rest of the useless drivel we are pounded with is just like pushing that water around. In the end, none of it matters because none of it is addressing the hole in the damn roof.
Here’s the simplicity of this: Omar Mateen is but the latest in a long line of mad men who executed innocent people for a panoply of reasons, none of which you or I would ever agree justifies killing anyone. This time the shooter was a Islamic State sympathizer but his motivations are not what is causing mass shootings or gun violence.
We cannot control every single human being like robots. We cannot peer into everyone’s heads and see what dark and dangerous thoughts may be lurking there, nor what people’s true intentions are. Mental health services in this country are not anywhere near up to that task, to say the least.
In our quest for solutions, we dare not look at the most obvious one of all. The only way to be sure that no one can go into a nightclub or a park or a classroom or a McDonald’s and not kill everyone there with a gun is to not let people have guns.
You may think that morally or Constitutionally or legally I have no idea what I’m talking about or that I’m saying that people don’t have a right to defend themselves, but I invite you to please just put aside any and all preconceived notions or feelings about this and just look at the simplicity of what I said. If no one has a gun, no one can shoot anyone else. That is a statement of fact.
However, I say this in the full knowledge that as things stand in the United States, that’s never going to happen. Too many people in the United States have been sold on the idea that they cannot possibly be safe or live a peaceful life without a gun. It’s a fascinating dichotomy. It doesn’t happen to be true and yet, there it is.
The only way such a solution could ever take hold is if we somehow unsold that idea. If it were somehow made clear that guns are not a necessity or a virtue or something that one has to have to feel safe. That they are in fact killing tools invented for only one real purpose: to take the life out of things.
The fact that the vast majority of gun owners are not violent people and don’t use their guns to kill people doesn’t change anything I just said. I fully acknowledge that is the case. I also am looking at 213 deaths and 570 injuries from mass shooters alone in just the first six months of 2016 and I’m thinking that is far too many.
Since a full ban on guns is impractical and impossible right now, how about some smaller steps that maybe most of us can agree to? I’ve got two suggestions:
(1) The people who want to expand gun laws and make it easier for anyone to own a gun are much louder and more organized than those who want to enact gun control legislation. They firmly believe that gun ownership is a necessity and will fight tooth and claw against every single gun control regulation ever invented even if it means that madmen can more easily get hold of guns to commit murder. For them, that is an acceptable risk so that they can sleep at night with a gun under their bed or stored in their garage. The National Rifle Association and the National Association for Gun Rights represent these people as lobbyists and spend millions and millions of dollars every year to not only push for more gun expansion laws but also to recall Congressmen who attempt to enact gun control legislation. It is well within their rights as citizens to make their voices be heard in government and I would never ever try to silence them or get them to stop pushing for what they want the government to do. Censorship and thought policing is never the solution. No, the only way to defeat them is to become better organized and louder than they are.
(2) A ban on private ownership of assault weapons, semi-automatic weapons and shotguns was enacted in 1996 in Australia and serves as an example of the kind of immediate step that can and should be taken here in the US. This would not infringe on anyone’s rights to privately own weapons that would enable them to still secure their home, target practice or use guns for sporting purposes. I would also like to point out that no private citizen has ever stopped a mass shooter because they were carrying their own assault weapon or shotgun, so this also should nullify the argument that we need these types of guns to stop mass shooters in the first place. I think this is only a first step, but it may be all that we need to curb the gun deaths and injuries happening every day in the US.
We as a nation are either going to solve this problem or we are not. So far, we have not even approached a solution but we sure have spent a lot of time babbling and arguing and fighting and even killing one another about it.
Whether you agree with me or not, I hope you will at least consider the reality that if something doesn’t change, the death toll from gun violence is simply going to continue rising. And every time it happens, rather than watching Anderson Cooper tell you how many more people have died or listen to an NRA spokesman tell you how safe you are because you too can own a gun, instead look in a mirror and ask yourself why we aren’t fixing that hole in the roof.
Thank you for watching.