After a gunman opened fire on revelers at a popular gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 12, President Barack Obama repeated the same threadbare words trotted out after Sandy Hook, Aurora and San Bernardino. “The shooter was apparently armed with a handgun and a powerful assault rifle,” he said. “This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater or in a nightclub.”
Much has been made of the shooter’s religious beliefs, Afghani background and possible links to the Islamic State, and much less of the fact that he was able to purchase — legally — the weapons used to carry out the massacre.
Time and again, we express shock, grief and outrage after each mass shooting. We change our profile pictures in gestures of solidarity with the victims. We write and read editorials, blog posts and Facebook statuses condemning the perpetrators and the violence they inflicted. And then we do absolutely nothing to reduce the possibility of another one occurring.
Gun sales spike after each new massacre; buyers want to protect themselves, but they also fear the passage of new legislation that might restrict their right to buy firearms at will. They shouldn’t.
President Obama’s pledge after the Sandy Hook shooting that left 28 dead to “take meaningful action” has been hamstrung by our representatives in Washington who, cowed into submission by the powerful firearms lobby, refuse to take meaningful action to regulate the sale of high-powered assault rifles like the one used in the Orlando attack. Renewed calls for increased firearm regulation have lost their urgency and efficacy because people no longer believe that our politicians will respond to them.
It will be interesting to see how Donald Trump, the presumed Republican nominee, and his supporters respond to the Orlando massacre. On the one hand, Trump has portrayed himself as a staunch advocate of Second Amendment rights. In a July 26, 2015, interview with CNN, he declared, “I’m a big Second Amendment person. I believe in it so strongly, and if you take the guns away from the good people, and the bad ones are going to have target practice.”
On the other hand, the presidential hopeful has drawn much of his support on the promise to be tougher on America’s enemies abroad, particularly on terrorist groups like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.
Just hours after news of the nightclub shooting broke, Trump tweeted, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!”
If Trump is truly serious about preventing another attack either inspired or directed by the Islamic State, he should support an assault weapons ban.
The husband and wife duo responsible for the Dec. 2, 2015, shooting in San Bernardino acquired their weapons — two semiautomatic assault rifles and two handguns, along with thousands of rounds of ammunition — through legal means.
Trumps’ response to the San Bernardino attack? A call for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” according to a press release uploaded to the man’s campaign website on Dec. 7, 2015, five days after the attack.
The “toughness and vigilance” we need in the wake of this latest episode of firearm-inflicted violence does not come in the form of a blanket ban on immigration from the Middle East. It comes in the form of a tightening of the absurdly — and now horrifically — lax gun laws we have in this country.
If our leaders are serious about protecting U.S. citizens from the possibility of being gunned down in a nightclub, or a school or a church, they need to take action to ensure that assault weapons are kept out of the hands of the murderers.
Murderers belong to no specific faith or ethnicity. In the days to come, there will no doubt be calls to restrict immigration from the Middle East, monitor Muslim communities in the U.S. and increase online surveillance of Islamic State correspondence.
But rather than expending our resources creating a profile of the prototypical terrorist and singling out and surveilling those who fit that profile, we should first make it impossible for those who wish to kill and maim others to legally acquire the tools to do so.
An assault weapons ban may not have deterred Sunday’s shooter — but it would have made things much more difficult for him. It would reduce the possibility of a similar attack happening in the future. And in the real world, where there are no quick fixes and few cure-alls, that is about the best we can do.
We can’t ensure that the terrible events in San Bernardino or Orlando will never unfold again. They very well could. But we can(ITAL) reduce the likelihood.
If our leaders are truly committed to protecting the safety of American citizens, they will set the Second Amendment dogma aside and take real, tangible steps to keep devastatingly powerful weapons out of the hands of terrorists.
Matthew Ormseth is currently a student at Cornell University majoring in English. He seeks to give an honest portrayal of life as both a university student and member of the Millennial generation.