Thoughts on the Orlando nightclub tragedy and domestic terrorism

Sorry for the short delay on this, but I wanted to make sure I got it right. Wikipedia has most of the background for those of you who have been living under a rock, in a cave, or otherwise unplugged from the news for the past few days.

I first learned of the tragedy from ABC News shortly after sunrise (in Houston, TX) Sunday morning. I don’t know what I was doing up at that hour, but I just happened to turn on the TV and that’s what came on. At that time they were reporting “at least 20” dead and “at least 42” injured badly enough to be taken to the hospital, which would climb to 49 fatalities (not counting the gunman) and 53 serious but non-fatal injuries.

Like most sane, peace-loving people in this country and around the world, I condemn this act of egregious brutality and terror. I don’t know what kind of political or ideological message the gunman was trying to get across. It could be anything from a religious message, to an outright hate crime against those with different lifestyles. In the broader sense, at least for the moment it really does not matter.

What does matter is 49 lives were snuffed out that should not have been, and most if not all of the 53 injured will never be quite the same again, at least mentally if not physically as well.

What does matter is that here in the US, there still exists a rather high level of intolerance against LGBTQ+ people and their lifestyles (to say nothing of far more repressive regimes around the world). I have nothing against religion in general, but I have seen too many messages of hate taught in the name of religion (whether it be Christianity, Islam, or something else entirely). For the Christians, don’t forget Mark 12:31 (among others which say the same thing), “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The holy books or scriptures of every religion of substance I am aware of have substantially similar sayings somewhere.

What does matter is we have a huge issue with access to mental health care in this country. We as a society still stigmatize those who seek care for mental health issues. The hourly rate of psychiatrists and psychologists is out of reach for most people who really need to be helped, meaning many of the people who really need help can’t afford it. (And public mental health facilities in many counties aren’t anywhere near well funded enough.)

What does matter is we have a real problem with gun violence in this country. I’m not sure what the answer is, and I wish I did. According to Wikipedia, the gunman acquired the weapons he used legally, as far as I can tell. Contrary to what some may believe, he was not on a terrorist watch list at the time he bought them. (I agree that if the gunman had been on a current terrorist watch list, the gun purchase should have been declined. However, that was not the case here.) He didn’t have a criminal record (neither did the gunman in the Sandy Hook shooting, or the gunmen in the San Bernardino attack). The fact the gunman had no criminal record is, of course, little consolation when there are 49 dead, 53 injured, and an entire nation shaken up by senseless, brutal terror. But it does say that the criminal background check required to buy a gun didn’t stop this, and couldn’t have stopped this. Background checks for gun purchases may have stopped many other tragedies that we never get to hear about, but there’s no way it could have stopped this one.

As for what could have prevented this tragedy? I wish I had the answer. (Don’t we all?) I don’t think any of us will have the answer until we get more information about the gunman’s motive. The answer is going to be different if we find this was a hate crime against the LGBTQ+ community, versus if we find this was a lone wolf terrorist act, versus if we find this was a terrorist act as part of a larger organization such as ISIL, versus something else entirely. For now, the best we can do is sit and wait and let the investigation run its course.