You're Viewing the Archives
Return to IVN's Frontpage

The Politics of Mass Shootings: A Never-Ending Blame Game

by Craig Berlin, published
The time after a mass shooting such as the one witnessed in Orlando is a challenging period in the political arena and becomes all the more significant in an election year. While the families of the victims try to cope with the ultimate tragedy in their personal lives, we as Americans wrestle with our need to point fingers, rarely in the same direction. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Americans united in support of defeating the Axis powers. Today, we're engaged more in a blame game that rarely addresses objective facts and real solutions, not to mention trying to find common ground. In the past 4 years I've written about many things, not the least of which is how we wrestle with inexplicable gun crimes. More recently, I've tried to answer questions about what, if anything, is inherently problematic in Islam and sensible approaches to gun violence as a whole. Nuanced approaches are largely abandoned when all of these serious issues come together and this tragedy generated another distraction:  arguing about whether the Christian right or fundamentalist Islam is more anti-gay and played a bigger role in the attack at the Pulse nightclub. With the election season in full swing and nominations seemingly secured for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, it seems almost a poetic injustice of sorts that the Orlando shooting occurred at this time. President Obama called the shooting an act of terror but not only didn't use the term "Islam," he also neglected to mention the perpetrator was a jihadist, despite Mateen's call to 911 from inside the club declaring his allegiance to the Islamic State. He did mention specifically, "how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people." Donald Trump followed suit by lashing out at Obama and Clinton, who both returned the favor. Gary Johnson took the high ground and cautioned against politicizing the incident. When all is said and done, Americans still want solutions and they aren't getting much beyond divisive rhetoric from candidates and elected leaders. How a candidate addresses these issues may be what turns the tide of what has so far been the most unique election in recent history. Jaqueline Salit and Cathy Stewart, President and Vice-President of IndependentVoting.org, recently called on the candidates to "suspend your campaigning to hold a joint press conference to demonstrate that communicating across the ideological and partisan divide serves the American people best." There are legitimate questions to be asked about how he obtained the Sig Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle he used in the shooting. We now know that at least one dealer refused to sell him the ammunition and body armour he asked for but had no information to report to the FBI. Somehow, he was still able to obtain multiple weapons and explosives and get them inside the club. This is after he obtained and continued employment as a security guard despite numerous red flags, starting with his dismissal from a previous job as a corrections officer. Daniel Gilroy, a former police officer, worked with Mateen for about a year and told the L.A. Times, "I complained multiple times that he was dangerous, that he didn't like blacks, women, lesbians and Jews." According to Gilroy, Mateen threatened violence repeatedly, including saying he wished he could kill all black people. "You meet bigots," Gilroy said, "but he was above and beyond. He was always angry, sweating, just angry at the world. " He described Mateen as "unhinged and unstable," eventually quitting his security job after Mateen began harassing him with 20 or 30 text messages a day and more than a dozen phone messages. Gilroy said his employer, G4S, did not intervene. And when bigotry becomes deadly, also of concern in light of the scrutiny towards Christians in this country who admittedly don't fully embrace the LGBT community, is the the ongoing issue of ISIL and Islamic jihad. In much of the fundamentalist Muslim world, these people are not simply disapproved of but systematically murdered, along with other Muslims and anyone else who gets in the way. In some countries, it's still legal to execute gays and apostates. While it's been long understood that many homophobes are likely to be closeted homosexuals, there is evidence that Mateen himself may have been gay and if so, his ideology took that self-hatred to an entirely new level. Attacks by terrorists are not dependent on guns, as evidenced by 9/11, Boston, and other incidents, nor necessarily averted with more restrictive gun laws such as those in place in France. Other issues also tend to overlap. While we're incarcerating large numbers of non-violent drug offenders, Mateen has been tied to a radical gay-hating imam who was released from prison last year despite efforts by federal prosecutors to tack on another 10 years to his sentence. Finding solutions requires honest and open dialogue across ideological and party lines. Referring to their call for a joint press conference among presidential candidates, Salit and Stewart went on to say: "Whatever differences exist with respect to a posture on terrorism and crimes in the name of Islam, on gun violence, and on the free expression of human sexuality, it would be meaningful to the American people for such a joint action to take place." The system seems entirely dysfunctional on many fronts, sometimes because there seems no proper recourse, others when people are afraid to speak out or the information simply falls flat for reasons unknown. Many argue our current strategy is not a strategy at all. Former National Security Agency analyst and terrorism expert John Schindler argues:
"During Mr. Obama’s first term, there was a thorough purge of personnel in the Intelligence Community and the Defense Department who were unwilling to follow the new party line. People were mysteriously reassigned, contracts were suddenly cancelled, meetings were delayed never to be rescheduled. The message was obvious to counterterrorism professionals. As someone who has tried for years to walk a fine line on jihadism—we must be able to discuss political Islam and terrorism without stigmatizing all Muslims—I witnessed this happen, and it was tragically clear what the long-term consequences of this institutionalized unreality would be."
If the Obama administration's directive has been ineffective, it's all the more important that we elect a president who is willing to do what is necessary to reinstate an effective strategy and not bog the system down focusing on non-solutions that have no facts to support their advocacy. That may very well include a less interventionist strategy. One of the witnesses reported Mateen saying he was doing this to send a message to America to stop bombing his country. In calling for nonpartisan dialogue, Salit and Stewart added: "The problem is that the culture of our partisan election system makes it difficult, if not impossible, to respond as a unified nation. Everything that the Orlando massacre raises does not reduce to guns or immigration." Indeed, a multifaceted approach will work best and we must prioritize, including taking a serious look not at emotional appeals based on what makes the biggest headlines but rather, what causes the greatest loss of life. Continued finger pointing in lieu of a more comprehensive strategy continues at our own peril. Divided we fall.

Photo credit: WPTV

About the Author