The atrocity in Orlando provides a convergence of the contentious subjects that have dominated American discourse in the recent past: the singular presidential campaign, political paralysis over guns, fears and frustrations about terrorism, and the nation’s views of “others,” including Muslims and the LGBT community.
Omar Mateen, 29, used an assault rifle to kill 49 people and wound more than 50 others early Sunday after storming into Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. He was killed several hours later in a shootout with law enforcers.
It was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
The shooting raises questions about how Mateen was able to buy an assault rifle and other weapons even though he had been twice investigated by the FBI for suspected terrorist sympathies.
As the Guardian noted, “Twenty minutes into the spree he took the bizarre step of making a 911 call in which he reportedly referred both to Islamic State and the Tsarnaevs, the brothers who carried out the Boston Marathon bombings in April 2013.”
As news of the murders spread on Sunday, many began retreating to their ideological corners, using the shooting to affirm their talking-point positions.
“In the hours after the deadliest mass shooting in American history…Americans began the ritual of separating our strands of shame after a mass killing,” Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker. “In this case, we are apportioning an armed man’s actions to the influence of ISIS, homophobia, mental instability, and the availability of high-powered weapons. It is our ugly accounting—and it is absolutely necessary.”
The New York Daily News pointed an accusatory finger at the gun lobby, which it blamed for the expiration of the federal assault weapons ban in 2004. The paper’s Monday front page featured the headline “Thanks, NRA.”
An AR-15 type of assault rifle was used in the Orlando massacre. The same weapon, which the paper called “the mass murderer’s best friend,” was used in the 2012 slaughter of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn., and of 12 people in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater the same year.
On Twitter, a backlash emerged against politicians who tweeted #thoughtsandprayers for the Orlando victims.
Igor Volsky, deputy director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, replied to some of those tweets with details of campaign contributions from gun groups to those same politicians.
For example, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, tweeted, “My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families and the brave men and women who risked their lives to save others.” Volsky replied, “@SenRonJohnson accepted $1.3 million+ from gun rights groups, so all you’ll get are his #ThoughtsAndPrayers.”
Elsewhere on Twitter, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was criticized after his humble-brag tweet that the shooting affirmed his position on terrorism. He wrote, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!” Among thousands of others, @MarenMorris replied, “You’re a piece of work. Literally a Team America caricature.”
The Orlando Sentinel contrasted Trump’s Twitter messages with those of Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee: “She first tweeted a note of concern for the victims; hours later, she issued a statement that sought to address the main issues that the tragedy touched on–terrorism, gay rights and gun control.”
The paper suggested, “The disparity between the two encapsulates the choice facing voters this fall: Do they see Trump’s bombast as the solution to a dangerous world, or do they find comfort in Clinton’s more familiar manner?
Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. said it is time to abandon pat talking points on guns, sexual identity and religion.
“We gain nothing by arguing about which form of moral revulsion is superior or more appropriate,” Dionne wrote. “We set ourselves back by responding to an act of violence against Americans who are gay by turning on Americans who are Muslim.”
He concluded, “The only appropriate response to Orlando is solidarity harnessed to intelligent determination. So far, no body count, however repulsive, has forced us to abandon our ideological cul-de-sacs. The dead on the floor of a nightclub cry out to us.”
David J. Krajicek (@djkrajicek) is a contributing editor of The Crime Report. He writes frequently about crime and justice for TCR, the New York Daily News, Alternet and others. He welcomes readers’ comments.