I have not commented on the recent atrocity committed at the night club in Orlando by Omar Mateen that resulted in 50 deaths and an approximately equal number of injured. This is partly because of the sense of despair that these kinds of mass killings have become so common and nothing ever seems to get done about the easy availability of semi-assault weapons and high capacity magazines that enable even a single person to kill so many people in so short a time.
It was the murders in Newtown that really showed the grip that the gun lobby has on Congress. If the murder of 20 elementary school children and six adults in a predominantly white middle class suburban community, the kind of victims our politicians find most sympathetic, results in Congress not doing a thing about it, the chances of them doing anything meaningful when the victims are mostly gay and Puerto Rican, as in the case of the Orlando shooting, were pretty much zero.
But another reason for my delayed response was that the background and motivations of the killer in this case were particularly confused and in such cases one has to be very wary of initial official statements, especially if the sources choose to remain anonymous, because they are often driven by more of a desire to advance an agenda rather that illuminate.
For example, the recent hacking of the servers of the Democratic National Committee was initially blamed on Russian hackers and this was seized upon by the media because Russia seems have replaced the China as the villains du jour and its president Vladimir Putin has been demonized. It emerged later that responsibility was claimed by a hacker known as ‘Gufficer 2.0’, and although this hacker may be working for Russian intelligence, the connection has yet to be established and the methods of hacking seems to lack the sophistication that one would expect from a state intelligence service.
But the purpose of initial reports, especially from anonymous official sources, is to cement a favored narrative in the media and the public mind because they know that later corrections rarely make a dent in those impressions. Despite the fact that Mateen’s choice of venue and targets suggested possible anti-gay and anti-Hispanic motivations as well, it is his statements of allegiance to ISIS that were seized upon and highlighted as being the chief driver of his actions though his earlier statements in support of groups that were hostile to ISIS suggest that his politics were somewhat incoherent.
A lot of reports have focused on statements by Mateen’s wife Noor Zahi Salman and ex-wife Sitora Yusufiy about him and but Sam Husseini warns that we would be well advised to treat those with caution. There are further reports that Mateen may have been a closeted gay man himself and that his self-loathing and fear of being outed may have also played a role, at least when it came to the choice of target.
Following a massacre that killed 28 people in 1996, within less than two weeks, Australia successfully adopted a ban on semi-automatic weapons including persuading people to hand in the weapons they already had and there have been no such mass murders since. Of course, the gun culture in the US is far more deep-rooted and the gun lobby here is immensely powerful so it should be no surprise that the US Senate failed yesterday to pass four bills that imposed the most minor restrictions.
So we have had one case where a high death toll of extremely sympathetic targets in Newtown failed to produce any action. Another case in Orlando with an even higher death toll by a supposed ISIS sympathizer also failed to dispel the inertia. One wonders if even a combination of yet larger numbers, sympathetic victims, and a clearly ISIS-directed attacker will result in any action. I suspect not but I hope we do not have to have yet another atrocity in order to find out.