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One wants to assign blame. At best the blame game is a search for causality, in hopes that a massacre like Sunday’s won’t happen again, that we can prevent it. At worst, it’s an attempt to slime your political opponents in hopes of political gain.
Regardless of whom or what one blames, mass shootings in America are becoming more frequent: Virginia Tech, April 2006—thirty-two killed. Fort Hood, November 2009—thirteen killed. Binghamton, April 2009—thirteen killed. Sandy Hook, December 2012—twenty-seven killed. San Bernardino, December 2015—fourteen killed. Orlando, June 2016—fifty killed.
Some people will blame lax gun laws, like the ones that allowed 29-year-old Omar Mateen to easily buy the pistol and a semiautomatic rifle he used to kill forty-nine people and wound dozens more, many of them Latino, at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
Lax gun laws are a reasonable target for blame. And one that reasonable people of opposing political persuasions can agree on.
For example, after Sunday’s attack, the Florida League of Women Voters, whose members include Republicans, Democrats, and independents, called for “expanded background checks and extensive safety training for all permit holders.” The chapter’s president Pamela Goodman said: “This is a public safety issue. We must all be responsible and take action for the safety of our citizens . . . . Florida must be a leader NOW for necessary gun legislation.”
Others will blame a lax mental health care system or a general inability or refusal to deal with violence-prone psychotic individuals before it’s too late. Anybody can sense that making semi-automatic weapons easily available to violence-prone mentally-ill people is a deadly combination (although mentally ill people rarely wield guns against others).
Still, there are those (like Donald Trump) who would exculpate lax gun regulations, throw up their hands about the school shootings, and indict all Muslims for Fort Hood 2009, San Bernardino 2015, and Orlando 2016, whose perpetrators all had some kind of connection to Islam.
Also on the list now is homophobia, since Mateen’s target was a gay club and he has now been reported to have engaged in hateful language towards homosexuals. At least one law and policy scholar is arguing that institutionalized bigotry could help drive guys like Mateen to commit mass murder.
“It is a tragic amalgamation of the systemic pathologies of our time: fundamentalist-inspired hatred of the 'other,' in this case homosexuals, and militarized, terrorizing violence, conducted wholesale by states and retail by private, non-state actors,” writes Junaid S. Ahmad, director of the Center for Global Dialogue in Lahore, Pakistan. “Whether or not mental illness contributed to this shooting, it is incontrovertible that these tragic cases have nothing to do with religion per se, but deeper contemporary processes that have fueled violence at home and abroad, with guns, bombs, and drones that have caused countless, nameless victims, in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, becoming so commonplace.”
Moreover, Ahmad observes, “Muslim thought, practice, and behavior has become much more intolerant of homosexuality” as a result of both “Western homophobia” and “Wahhabi puritanism” promoted by Saudi Arabia.
The blame list for Sunday’s attack also includes the FBI, which had investigated Mateen twice as a suspected terrorist, but closed the cases; and the G4S, the security company who employed Mateen for seven years, despite the FBI investigations and perhaps other warning signs.
And finally, there are those who will blame the nightclub’s security for being too lax—making the arming of nightclubs against potential terrorist assaults as a new standard of safety in America.
Reasonable critics will be wise to wait for in-depth inquiries, though, instead of rushing to conclusions. For example, it appears that the FBI is suggesting that the U.S. Constitution—that is, a lack of probable cause for keeping Mateen under surveillance or just plain rounding him up—was a factor.
The only thing that seems certain at this point is that this is not the last such tragedy we’ll see.
Kirk Carter Nielsen is a writer based in Miami, Florida.