Without change what happened in Orlando, Fla., will happen again. Is this the America we want?
The events of June 12 are now scarred into the collective mind of all of us in the LGBT/queer community. A gunman entered the Pulse nightclub in Orlando during its Latin night and murdered 49 of our brothers and sisters, injuring 53 more. The gunman was able to accomplish his terror in short order with just two legally purchased weapons: a handgun and an assault rifle.
Many will denounce this as terrorism, and there is strong evidence to support this claim – the gunman did pledge allegiance to a radical terrorist organization, the Islamic State. Nevertheless, America should remember that up to the point he entered the crowded nightclub and pulled the trigger he had not committed a crime. We must accept that as our laws currently stand in many parts of the country almost anyone can purchase an assault rifle and high capacity magazines and become a walking weapon of mass destruction.
If we refuse to change, then we must accept that mass shootings are not terrorist attacks but just part of the American experience. Guns are now powerful enough to murder dozens of people in short time. The assault rifle used in Orlando was so power and effective in its mission to kill and maim queer people of color that of the roughly 300 people at the club more than 100 had been murdered or sent to the hospital: possibly one-third of all those present had been shot. To do nothing about the proliferation of these weapons is to allow violence to continue. If we do nothing it’s “going to kill us” as one friend of Edward Sotomayor Jr., a victim of the gunman’s rampage, told MSNBC June 13.
Assault rifles are effective at killing. Gun makers do not try to hide the weapon’s purpose, Sig Sauer – the brand the gunman is alleged to have used – is so brazen its promotional video shows a shooter in a smoked-filled range firing bullet after bullet quickly and accurately while an announcer calls the new gun “the start of a new era.” These kinds of weapons seem designed for a new era and that’s the problem.
Assault rifles have been used by shooters in San Bernardino, Aurora, Newtown and now in Orlando. Assault rifles have been used in so many recent mass murders and are so easy to get that The Washington Post reports that a lawyer for the families of the victims in Newtown described the assault rifle as “the gold standard for mass murder,” and the Islamic State promotes that “America is awash with easily obtainable firearms,” highlighting that you can get a rifle and may not even have to show ID. This is all part of the new era America has entered.
As it stands now, almost anyone can purchase these brutal weapons with ease in America. If we do not wish to change then we should accept that attacks can happen at anytime and anywhere. With America “awash” with these guns we should all prepare for a mass shooting to happen to us. Indeed many already do, schools have been preparing for these events for years, and if we do not change then it’s time for the rest of America to accept that they must prepare for it too.
If we do not demand change then we cannot ban high-capacity magazines and semi-automatic guns, if we do not demand change we are agreeing with the idea that the right to own weapons of terror supersedes our right to life. We must ask ourselves if protecting the rights of mostly white men to keep these destructive weapons is more important than the lives of schoolchildren in Newtown and ask why the right to own these guns is more important than preventing LGBT people —mostly LGBT people of color — in Orlando from being massacred.
As it stands today, the right to own a gun that can murder 49 people – the very definition of a weapon of mass destruction – is something almost any of us can do. Maybe we should ask: Why?
Alex Morash is the economic researcher at Media Matters for America. His opinions expressed here are his own.