Early in the morning on June 12th, a new record was set. It’s not one to be proud of.
At least 50 people who were alive just one day before are no longer with us. At least 50 more people were wounded, forever changed.
As more details come in, it’s become clear that this was an act of religious extremism, of bigotry against the LGBT community. It was committed by a man filled with hatred, with a tool specifically engineered to make killing as simple as moving a finger.
One deranged man ended or changed hundreds of lives. All by himself. In minutes.
I see two major factors in play here: religion and guns.
I’ll tackle guns first, then religion.
Our past actions in response to massacres like this have been to do nothing.
And it makes sense why we haven’t, as the most obvious answer to these shootings is to restrict the ability to own and use guns.
But gun culture in the U.S. is astoundingly pervasive. The Second Amendment has seen to that. And when viewed historically, how could it not be?
How else would we have driven out the British occupation if not for the guns we armed ourselves with? The very tools that gave birth to our nation could not so easily be cast aside, so the Founding Fathers enshrined our right to bear arms into the Second Amendment of the Constitution.
The founders of our nation wanted to ensure that the very government they established could be overthrown by the people if it ever overextended its power.
But times have changed.
Regardless of how many guns you have in your home or how well it’s fortified and stocked with food, if the government turns against you, you’re fucked. A single missile dropped from an unmanned drone will turn you into a smear on the ground before you even had time to think about reaching for a gun.
That’s a scary thought.
I know this is a well-worn talking point of gun control advocates, but it’s true: Our nation’s founders never could have imagined the kinds of guns we have today. Nor the even greater tools of destruction we’ve invented that will beat a gun 100 percent of the time.
But at the same time, it’s absolutely unrealistic to get rid of all guns in the United States. There are just too many of them. It would end up disarming law-abiding citizens while leaving scoundrels like the man who committed Sunday’s atrocity armed to the teeth.
So what can we do?
Well, we can start by ensuring that those who own guns are qualified to handle them safely and use them effectively.
A well-trained, armed civilian could have theoretically stopped Sunday’s gunman before it got as bad as it did.
An untrained, armed civilian could have made it worse.
Deaths caused by motor vehicles are roughly the same per year as those caused by guns. We’re required to pass a test and get a license to drive a car, yet many states require nothing more than checking a few boxes promising that you are not a criminal before purchasing a gun. Shouldn’t we require at least some proof of basic competence before putting a gun in someone’s hands?
I realize that concealed carry permits sometimes require training, but laws vary across states and some are more lenient than others. Shouldn’t those of us carrying firearms in public places all meet the same standard of competency? If we want to stop shootings like this, shouldn’t our training reflect that?
Isn’t that a reasonable compromise? Isn’t that a step in the right direction to keep everyone safer? It’s not a novel idea, but how could increasing the average gun owner’s knowledge of how to use their weapon do anything but improve safety?
The bigger problem underlying the massacre is religious extremism and bigotry against the LGBT community.
Religion and hatred of LGBT people are often tightly intertwined, as commandments against homosexuality come directly from the gods, prophets, and holy books of almost every major faith.
Thankfully, the vast majority of religious people have left the literal interpretation of those verses behind, back in the stone age from whence they came. That’s something to be celebrated.
But what does it say about your holy book when those who take it most seriously are the ones shooting up a gay bar?
If you know me well, you know I’m not a fan of religion. Religious moderates provide a safe haven for the extremists. Moderates create validation for those who go “by the book” by building a society that thinks believing the unbelievable is a virtue.
And while the man who committed this masacre was a radical Islamist who pledged allegiance to ISIS, Christianity is not free from criticism today either. There are Christian pastors celebrating the deaths of these innocent people, saying that their sins brought it upon them.
That said, I’m not saying that all religious people are to blame. Far from it. The vast majority of people, regardless of faith or creed, simply want to live happy, productive lives. The vast majority of religious people will never, ever, even consider doing something so awful and vile as what happened today.
That doesn’t mean religion can’t be dangerous. It enables the fundamentalists to do terrible things. But even if we were to somehow get rid of all religion, people would just find another cause to justify their evil.
But like the problem of trying to remove all guns from the U.S., religion isn’t going anywhere.
So what do we do?
We join forces, religious and non-religious alike. We make it known that bigotry and hatred are not tolerated in a modern society. We essentially shame the fundamentalists out of existence.
We’ve done it before with racism and sexism (not that either of those two issues are solved, but the strides we’ve made in a few short decades are nothing to balk at).
We can do it with homophobia too.
The political and social backlash to the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history has begun. The debates about religion, LGBT rights, and the second amendment are reigniting. Tensions are high. Emotions are piqued. Many of us on all sides of the issue are going to say things we’ll later regret.
Gun enthusiasts are nervous about losing their hobbies and means of protection.
The LGBT community is once again starkly aware of just how much hatred is thrown their direction.
Peaceful Muslims who condemn the massacre are terrified of being lumped in with the Islamists and jihadists.
That is exactly what ISIS wants. They want us at each other’s throats.
Now that we know the bastard that did this pledged allegiance to ISIS, we can easily label it as terrorism and see it for what it is.
Let’s not get sucked into their game. Let’s talk it out. Let’s compromise. Let’s work together to defeat morally bankrupt ideas.
Let’s make this world a better place.
I don’t know what the solutions look like. I have ideas, and I’ve expressed them here. Obviously, those ideas will look horrific to some and reasonable to others. I’ve tried to be as rational as I can be, and I hope rationality can prevail on all sides of the issues.
Take a deep breath.
Yes, there is a need to defend yourself with a gun. Guns are the great equalizer, and I’m actually considering getting one myself to ensure my family’s safety at home.
Take another deep breath.
Yes, there is injustice in the world. We just witnessed it today.
Take one more deep breath.
Yes, there will be those who unfairly condemn peaceful Muslims as a result of one extremist’s actions. We can’t let another innocent group succumb to undeserved violence due to fear.
We can work through this. Remember, we all want the same thing: a better world. We all have good intentions.
Let’s do this.
I would love to open up a dialog regarding anything I bring up in this essay. Nothing I say in here is meant to offend, demean, or demonize anyone who disagrees with me (well, except for ISIS). I’m a 26 year old kid simply writing my thoughts about a recent tragedy. I want to see the world become a better place, and my criticisms stem from that desire.
I don’t claim to be an expert, and I clearly don’t know everything about these issues. I always love changing my mind to more closely align with reality, so please feel free to engage me in conversation!