(The gunman who killed 50 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando used an AR-15 assault rifle, a military-grade weapon that the NRA wishes to keep legal for everyone to purchase)
The public’s response to the tragic Orlando shooting on Sunday has largely been hopeful and loving. Already, Equality Florida has raised more than $1 million through a GoFundMe campaign on behalf of victims and their families. Voices from around the world have spoken out against violence and fear and in solidarity with the LGBTQ community.
Other responses – however – leave something to be desired. Presidential candidate Donald Trump appeared to congratulate himself for crediting the attack to Islamic extremists. A rather tone-deaf move as investigators still navigated the crime scene identifying victims.
Also, many politicians struggled to name the LGBTQ community as the target, belying the very real, continued presence of homophobia in our society.
Remaining optimistic in the face of nihilistic murder is a powerful statement, and the country appears ready to embrace this path. There are, however, real steps that politicians can take to prevent bigoted individuals and hate groups from exacting the awful toll that we witnessed this week.
Congress, in fact, had an opportunity last year to prevent individuals such as Omar Mateen – the perpetrator of the Orlando terror – from acquiring the kind of military-grade weapons that were used to kill 50 innocents at the Pulse nightclub.
Shortly after the San Bernardino shooting late last year, Senator Diane Feinstein sponsored legislation to block suspected terrorists from buying weapons. Virtually all Republican senators, however, voted against the measure.
The NRA’s influence among elected officials is well-known. Any attempt at even modest gun control – including the popularly supported, common sense effort to prevent suspected terrorists from buying weapons – is anathema to the extremist organization, which maintains a radical and uncompromising look at the second amendment.
As politicians begin blaming political correctness or targeting particular ethnic and religious groups over the Orlando shooting, remember that there was a very real chance to prevent this tragedy. An unstable and capricious individual such as Mateen hardly resembles the well-connected and resourceful terrorists that pull off carefully planned and coordinated attacks. The spontaneous, lone-wolf assault on Pulse nightclub is of a different mould – one that the United States can readily combat with the political willpower to move past the dangerous intransigence of the NRA.