The horrific massacre that took place in a Gay Nightclub in Orlando, Florida in the early morning hours of Sunday June 12, 2016 is another in a long string of mass killings perpetrated by a heavily armed assailant(s). These assailants are typically mentally disturbed and apparently motivated by a blinding hatred seeking vengeance for supposed wrongs done against them or the group to which they identify. In this case, the killer, Omar Mateen, was an American citizen of Afghan descent who was a Muslim and supporter of ISIS – the extremist Islamic group. He was a young man filled with hatred and who legally purchased deadly firearms.
Such events are obviously very unsettling for the general population; for they highlight intense feelings of insecurity – the natural reaction is for individuals to want to protect themselves from such senseless violence. The gun industry in the United States as represented by the National Rifle Association (NRA) invariably uses such events to encourage ordinary citizens to protect themselves with firearms in a country where by 2009 there were an estimated 310 million firearms owned by American citizens as published in a Congressional Research report. The updated estimate is that there are more guns in the hands of individuals than the entire population.
In the current political climate demagogues like Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for President, are quick to find a convenient scapegoat focusing on the Muslim population; for, the purpose of exploiting and stoking fear in the minds of those who choose to listen to his invective. The reality is quite different and far more complex than Mr. Trump would like to suggest. In fact, hate crimes especially against minorities have been a fact of life in the United States for many, many years. The African-American community is well aware of this history that began with slavery, continued through the post-Civil War era exemplified by Jim Crow throughout the American South and, of course, manifests itself to this day in many forms including police violence. Other minorities subjected to discrimination and violence include homosexuals, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans and immigrants.
It is interesting that those non-Muslims who have been responsible for mass-killings, regardless of their underlying motivation, have not been branded as terrorists. These events though numerous – as chronicled by the New York Times - are treated as isolated incidents
In fact, the underlying sense of stability and security that is necessary for a society to sanely function is being undermined by the reality that we have a well-armed citizenry. The inevitable result of such an environment is that at any moment in any part of this vast country, an individual or group my feel compelled for some reason, inexplicable to most everyone else, to take vengeance upon some perceived threat, despised group or alleged enemy. As a people, we are paying a heavy price for this blind allegiance to what has been proclaimed as our constitutional right to bear arms as embodied in the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution – some may find it difficult to envision that the framers of the Constitution had the current reality in mind.
I believe we have to ask ourselves as a people, if we really want to continue on this path. Do we really want to be plagued, on a daily basis, with the fear that ourselves, or our loved ones or our community will be the indiscriminate target of someone’s senseless outrage? Are we willing to accept these periodic events of mass killings as a natural outcome of our collective choice to be armed with deadly weapons? If so, then we need to be prepared to accept the onerous psychological price that we are paying for such a choice. If so, then we should be prepared to endure these disturbing events as a “legitimate” aspect of the national landscape.