The June 12, 2016 massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida left 49 people dead and 53 wounded after a gunman opened fire on the crowd of more than 300 patrons at the popular central Florida gay club.
The gunman has since been identified as Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old American citizen from Port St. Lucie, Florida. During his communication with 911 dispatchers, Mateen pledged his loyalty to ISIS, who also publicly “claimed responsibility” for the gunman’s senseless hate-crime against the LGBT community hours after it had been committed.
During his communication with the dispatchers, Mateen was reported to have said the following, which was paraphrased by a senior law enforcement official:
“I’m doing this to protest the U.S. bombing in Syria and Iraq and the killing of women and children… I’m doing this in solidarity with the Tsarnaev brothers and Moner Abu-Salha.”
The Tsarnaev brothers committed the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, while Abu-Salha was the first American suicide bomber found in Syria during their now 5-year long civil war.
Although its not clear whether or not the massacre was anything more than an act of lone-wolf domestic terrorism, independent of any direct commands by Islamic State leadership, the fact remains that Mateen was able to legally purchase the AR-15 assault rifle he used to viscously murder his victims. As the Nation’s editorial team pointed out in one of their recent pieces, the one thing Mateen shares with many of the recent domestic terrorism incidents since 9/11 — from the San Bernardino shootings to the killings committed by a right-wing fundamentalist at a Planned Parenthood clinic days prior to that attack — was his ready access to the deadly weaponry he needed to commit the atrocity.
In fact, international terrorist and extremist groups have long been exploiting not just the lax gun laws afforded by our nation, but the pervasive gun culture of the United States itself for their own ends. In a six page pamphlet obtained by the Violence Policy Center in 2001 entitled How Can I Train Myself For Jihad, the authors talk extensively about the advantages of not just easily obtaining firearms in the United States, but also receiving the training necessary to use their weapons skillfully from the many courses and shooting ranges that dot the landscape of our society.
President Barack Obama himself gave a chilling response to a gun-advocate’s question during an appearance on PBS Newshour about a year ago, in which he informed the country about how easy it is for somebody with violent extremist leanings to purchase a firearm. The president told the audience that he has to frequently contend with “people who we know have been on ISIL websites,” are U.S Citizens, are on no-fly lists, who are still legally able to purchase a gun, primarily due to the intensive lobbying of the National Rifle Association to keep them readily available to anybody who wants them, even those linked with violent extremist groups.
It’s easy for people, especially the Donald Trumps of the world, to use violent atrocities as a means to demonize different religions, races, or other groups of people in order to keep us divided and in perpetual fear and resentment towards our fellow human beings. But the fact of the matter is that such demagogic bloviating only serves to perpetuate the grand “clash of civilizations” narrative that violent extremists often use to demonize our society and justify unspeakable violence against it.
The only hope we have of preventing domestic terrorism, whether it be from right-wing militants or jihadist groups, is through making considerable reforms in our existing US gun laws. This is not an easy task, by any means, but it’s one we can’t afford to brush aside any longer.
Featured image via Facebook.