Just back from England, I return to the kind of massacre that is essentially inconceivable in that more placid, less gun-ridden land. Fifty dead, 53 more injured — a horrific body count, all attributable to one young mass murderer — the worst mass shooting in American history.
I write at 2 p.m. on the day of the killings, so these comments are subject to revision based on new evidence.
Three ingredients make up this particular mass shooting in our land full of mass shootings: a “soft” target, a hateful, determined murderer armed with military-grade weapons, and a particularly vulnerable target population — patrons of a gay nightclub.
While in this horrible case these elements come together, they also can and should be analyzed separately.
First: Any reasonably free society is filled with soft targets; that is, unguarded or lightly guarded, easily accessed locations in which civilians gather for business, education, worship or entertainment. Recent years have seen murderous assaults on many such targets, including schools, houses of worship, restaurants, movie theaters, sports arenas and malls.
It is becoming increasingly clear to me that in our society, prone to murderous attacks with high-grade weapons, all soft targets need to be “hardened.” No location where civilians gather should be unguarded in the United States, and those that are lightly guarded need stronger armed security. If we are going to allow pretty much anyone to arm themselves like a military unit, we need well-trained, well-equipped armed security in all public locations, and a means to get an actual military-grade unit to every public location in America within just a few minutes. I say this with shame, as an American, that such steps should be necessary.
Second: As I write, all that is known about the now-dead killer is that his name was Omar Mateen, his parents came from Afghanistan, he was a Muslim, on the brink of the attack he called 911 and pledged allegiance to ISIS, he had expressed disdain to his parents related to seeing gay men kiss, and he had come to the attention of the FBI even before this attack. So this appears to be both an instance of Islamist-inspired domestic terrorism, and a hate crime.
The fact that this person was able to arm himself with an AR-15 automatic weapon, as well as a handgun and explosives, is the kind of thing only possible in a society willing to accept military levels of killing of civilians by allowing the sale of such weapons despite repeated massacres. It is obvious that this must end. Perhaps Americans will take the opportunity of the elections in November to vote out representatives who do not pass basic laws to protect their constituents.
Third: We live in a society that has seen rapid gains for LGBT dignity and equality, gains that have outstripped the actual acceptance of LGBT people in significant parts of the population, especially including its most conservative religious communities. We have already seen milder but unmistakable forms of anti-LGBT backlash in the year since the Supreme Court made gay marriage a national right.
In retrospect, it was perhaps tragically inevitable that some aggrieved anti-LGBT person somewhere would pick a gay bar or nightclub for some kind of horrible attack. Groups that are viewed with contempt usually end up the targets of violence, and locations that symbolize those groups are ripe targets.
At this terrible time, I reaffirm my commitment to stand in solidarity with LGBT people, precisely as a Christian, and to work alongside you for religious communities and for a nation in which you can live in peace, equality and dignity.
I also reaffirm my commitment to stand in solidarity with Muslim Americans, also precisely as a Christian, and to work alongside you for a nation in which you too can live in peace, equality and dignity.
My heart goes out to the families and friends whose grief is today only just beginning. Each and every human life is sacred. Fifty such lives were just ended.