I woke up this morning, bleary-eyed and with a slight headache from having stayed up unreasonably late the previous night, and, as is my daily ritual, reached for my phone to scroll through my social media accounts. I was instantly alerted to the mass shooting at the gay night club, Pulse, in Orlando, Florida, where an estimated fifty people had been killed the previous night by an armed gunman. I pushed myself to feel something, anything– shock, anger, hurt, fear. In a way, I was, objectively, all of these things. I was aware of the injustices highlighted by the senseless killing, the hate and prejudice that seemed to undoubtedly underlie the extreme act of violence. And yet, I was not shocked. I tried to be, for sure. Upon reading the phrase, “the deadliest mass shooting in recent United States history,” I reached desperately for the core sympathy I was sure lay within me. I tried, in vain, to be unnerved, unsettled, appalled. I was still, somehow, unshaken. Now, a few hours later, I am still more terrified, more sickened, by how normalized this situation is than by the grave reality of this tragedy.
Part of the problem surely hinges on the gun control laws of this country, the perpetual and vigorous upholding of the Second Amendment. We live in a country comprising individuals, like myself, who are acclimatized to gun violence. We can wake up, read a headline proclaiming fifty deaths and fifty-three injuries, and not bat an eye. But my question is this: What is normal about permitting our citizens to pay with their lives to defend a constitutional right written and ratified in 1791, a time of Revolutionary Wars and militias? We are entitled to exercise our rights until they infringe upon those of others. In a country in which gun violence can be attributed to self-defense in less than one-percent of cases and the remainder constitute acts of criminal homicide, to what degree can we continue to justify individual gun ownership, an entitlement that so actively and continuously endangers and victimizes others, as a constitutional right?
It is time that we push forcefully and unremittingly for stricter gun control measures. For those of you who can vote or are in a position to influence those who can, I encourage you to prioritize issues of gun control as a consideration in selecting a candidate to support in the upcoming election. If we can mobilize as a country, as a united people, to promote legislation that will protect our citizens against gun violence, I believe that we can effect important change that will move the nation towards less frequent incidents of terrorism.
Of course, it is impossible to ignore the ideological roots of this terrorist act. While we have yet to receive confirmation of the shooter’s motivations, his father recently provided a statement suggesting that his son’s actions were linked to a kiss shared between two men that he had witnessed earlier and which had supposedly angered him. President Obama, too, strongly asserted the importance of the gunman’s chosen location—a gay nightclub, a place that he designated as a bastion of civil rights advocacy and collective empowerment. Events like these serve as a strong reminder that although we have taken strides as a country towards LGBTQ+ equality, having recently legalized gay marriage, we still host hatred and prejudice on a truly frightening scale. Therefore, we must resolve to continue to preach love and acceptance and advocate for tolerance and equality, and hope that this generation and those to come will further indoctrinate and institutionalize this message.
Finally, I’d like to close by touching upon the predictable outbreak of Islamophobia that will follow this event. It has been publicized that the shooter called 911 and pledged his allegiance to ISIS prior to the attack. Unfortunately, fear breeds hatred. To rationalize incidents of mass killing or to externalize the blame for casualties, we often attempt to identify a single ideology and a collective group of individuals as culpable. However, there is no sense in this practice. To shame all practitioners of a religion which may or may not have motivated a single individual to unspeakable violence is to perpetuate the prejudice at the heart of these killings. Stereotypes blur together individuals of a common group and render us blind to the individual humanity that distinguishes its members. This failure to perceive the humanity that characterizes us all, regardless of gender, race, religion, and sexuality, drove the shooter to his act of violence. We cannot allow this same flawed judgment to justify an eruption of undue hatred against the Islamic community during this critical time of hurt and healing.