I’m going to politicize the Pulse massacre. Not because I mean to disrespect the victims, but because I wish to honor them. And we cannot do so if we do not acknowledge the many levels on which the dead and injured were victimized.
The 50 dead and 53 injured at Pulse were victims of a terrorist.
The 50 dead and 53 injured at Pulse were victims of the dog whistle rhetoric of the Republican Party that has demonized the LGBTQ community.
The 50 dead and 53 injured at Pulse were victims of a broken political system that has been unable, even after countless mass shootings (including the massacre of children at Sandy Hook), to enact sensible gun legislation.
So let’s take these levels one at a time.
Terrorism: I have heard friends protest the label of terrorism- suggesting that the attack is being labeled as such because the shooter was Muslim. Though Islamaphobia is real, it is not unreasonable to call this an act of terrorism when the suspect himself called in to 911 to profess allegiance to ISIS. According to Merriam Webster, terrorism is “the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal.”
What makes this terrorism is not that the shooter was Muslim, but that the act was political in its nature. It is why the attack on the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood was an act of terrorism and the Charleston attack was also an act of terrorism. The problem is not that we are calling the Pulse shooting terrorism; it is that we failed to identify the other shootings as such.
(Sadly, I feel the need to point out that the fact that this was an act of terrorism committed by a Muslim man does not mean that all Muslims are terrorists or that the Koran preaches violence any more than any other religious text preaches violence. Christians, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists all commit terrorism. It is not the religion that warps people into terrorism, but rather fanatics who warp religion as a justification for terrorism. Indeed, one need only look at the ways nationalism is a cause of terrorism. Fanatic commitment to any ideology is the root cause of terrorism. )
Targeting the LGBTQ community: As President Obama rightly noted, Pulse was a place where people came together in solidarity and empowerment. They came together to dance and enjoy life but the club also hosted educational events as well. It was a place, in the midst of rising homophobic rhetoric, in which people could enjoy themselves in safety.
And the LGBTQ community has needed places to feel safe. Republican legislatures and politicians have attempted to distract their constituents from their own failures by launching culture war crusades against gay marriage and transgender rights. The heated rhetoric has led to an atmosphere of menace that too often erupts in violence against member of the LGBTQ community.
It is not surprising that Pulse was targeted by a religious extremist. It was just a question of which religious extremist it would be.
Gun Violence. No discussion of a mass shooting, whether terrorist in nature or merely terrorizing, should happen without a serious discussion about guns. How was this attacker able to kill 50 people and injure 53 others? By using guns he obtained legally despite having been investigated TWICE by the FBI for potential terrorist connections. And yet, Republican legislators have consistently refused any sensible regulation of gun ownership. Indeed, one can be on the government’s no fly list and still legally purchase a gun. That’s right, in the United States, if you are not allowed to fly because you might turn an airplane into a weapon, you are still allowed to buy an actual weapon.
Respecting the Second Amendment does not mean that gun ownership should not be regulated. Even Justice Scalia admitted as much. If you want to drive a car you need a license and you must have insurance. There is no Constitutional reason that these rules should not apply to gun ownership. At the very least, we should have a serious discussion about this. And yet, our lawmakers are so beholden to and afraid of the NRA that they are unwilling even to engage in CONVERSATION about sensible gun legislation.
So let’s honor the dead and support the injured at Pulse. But in their honor, let us also resolve to look seriously at the factors that contributed to this massacre. And in the name of all that is good and just in the world, let us go beyond talk and actually DO something