I woke up Sunday morning to the smells and sounds of Shanice making lunch. As I rolled out of bed Shanice proceeded to inform me that a shooting happened in Orlando, Florida, Saturday night at a popular gay bar known as the Pulse Nightclub. I’m sure, Dear Reader, you’re aware of the grim details. There’s no need to reiterate the numbers, or the king-hell bummer stories coming from the friends, family members, and survivors. The point of this post isn’t a rehash of that night’s events and the immediate aftermath. I will say this much though (and I’ll provide the details at the end of the article), if you can donate blood or treasure then I urge you to do that. Even if you don’t “agree” with the “gay lifestyle” I’m sure many of you are not heartless neo-Nazis and can see the victims of this atrocity as human beings deserving of at least the bare minimum of help.
The question being asked in the wake of this insanity, and the question that is always asked after things like this is quite simple: why? The shooting at the Pulse Nightclub was not the only tragedy, or near tragedy, that happened in this past week, or so. A crazed gunman shot dead the Voice singer, Christina Grimmie, and another madman was en route to an L.A. gay pride parade loaded for bear with firearms and explosives. It is an understatement to say this has been a bad few days for the United States. I’m sure we’ll have our resident Fuhrer, Trump, standing up and proclaiming that this attack is why we need to keep out the dastardly Muslims, while on the opposite end of the sinking ship known as American politics we’ll have Clinton declaring that this is why we need to ban guns. The great rift widens and deepens, and meanwhile we lack the intestinal fortitude to truly answer why this happened, again.
There’s no doubt about it, access to guns did play a part in this, just as much as if it had been a knife attack then knives would have been a factor, or if it had been a bombing then explosive materiel would have been a factor. Attempts to ignore this is exceedingly unhelpful. Make no mistake: the NRA doesn’t give a damn about the sanctity of the 2nd Amendment, and all they really care about is whipping their supporters into a frenzy to insure that they remain politically relevant. Any talk about gun control will be drowned out by paranoid, fantastical doom-saying that gestapo agents will be kicking down your door to take your hunting rifle, or your shotgun. I am not concerned about that kind of sweeping, authoritarian gun control because it’s simply untenable in a country as big as the United States. The vast amount of resources needed to carry out such an action would make the War on Drugs look like a training exercise. I’m also not concerned about sane people owning firearms. Hell, a perfectly stable person could own a bazooka for all I care. We need to confront the reality that crazy people should not get their hands on firearms. I don’t trust these people with safety scissors much less a tool that can clear a room in a matter of seconds. I know that some will jump up and say, “But Adam, if they’re crazy, and determined, then they could get their hands on firearms either way!” True! Except Omar Mateen bought his guns legally, and I’m willing to bet the man in L.A. acquired his guns legally too, and the guy that shot Ms. Grimmie most likely got his gun legally too. They didn’t go to some black market to buy their guns, they probably went to a local gun shop, went through the background check, and paid the tender; the same as you or I would Dear Reader. I don’t think it’s too much of a sacrifice to wait a few days to buy a gun if it means preventing tragedies like this. I want to reiterate: if you are a sane human being and want to own a machine gun I don’t care. I care about keeping guns out of the hands of unstable and dangerous people.
While these attacks, or in the case of L.A. an almost attack, are indicative of America’s gun problem there are other factors at play. Naturally, whenever any incident like this happens we reopen the discussion about mental health in the United States. It goes without saying: to think it is acceptable to hurt, or kill innocent people then you are not a healthy person, at least by our metric of social acceptability. If we lived in a society where random, senseless violence was acceptable then we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion, but I’m happy to say we do not live in a society that actively condones murder. Ergo, people who carry out these attacks are insane and we need to do more to recognize mental health issues before they result in tragedy. Of course, we already over-medicate people. Amphetamines for kindergartners, antidepressants for teenagers, anxiety pills for young professionals. You can see why some might be hesitant to expand this treatment any further. This could spiral into a long, messy discussion about the causes of psychological illness in America, so I’ll try to keep it reigned in, and the best way to do that is to not talk about it. At least not right now. Besides, I’m not even remotely equipped to really talk about the causes of mental anguish in 21st Century America. It’s easy to see, though, that we need to face facts: there is still a stigma when it comes to mental illness in the United States. Ugly possessions, asylums filled with society’s rejects, and unhinged people wandering the streets at night mumbling to themselves or to inanimate objects. They have become something of a dangerous joke; you can laugh at them, but from a distance. We don’t laugh and stay away from cancer patients, or from people with genetic disorders, or from people with the flu (although you could argue that contagious diseases are a slightly different matter, but I digress). It’s really quite simple: these people have a medical issue and deserve treatment. They aren’t mutant lizard people, they are human beings in need of help. Shit, if it meant higher taxes, but less dead people, I would gladly pay my way. It’s not like you’re being asked to sacrifice your first born child, or bow before the Elder Gods (although it might not be a bad idea to show some respect to Cthulhu.)
Speaking of which, it makes at least a modicum of sense to talk about the elephant in the room. That elephant in the room is religion, or to be precise, extreme religious ideologies and extreme political ideologies. Dogmatism, in a word. This is not an indictment against anyone that believes in a higher cause, and any discussion about restricting freedom for anyone that might have a socially unacceptable viewpoint is, in and of itself unacceptable. The problem is not your garden-variety Christian, Muslim, Republican, or Democrat. The problem is that extreme ideologies, whether they are Christian, Muslim, Left, or Right flavored need to be (and have not been) tempered in such a way that the adherents and demagogues don’t think it’s acceptable to go out and commit crimes. And yes, it is the ideology’s fault. Trying to ignore that truism is like saying, “He’s/she’s a nice person when they aren’t drinking, but alcohol isn’t the problem!” With most extremists I’m willing to bet that they are, at least to some capacity, good people who were already vulnerable to manipulation. “Yeah, but they’re crazy people,” you might say, and my answer to that is: obviously. Healthy, sane people don’t charge headlong into a suicide mission, period. This means that the ideas become facilitators of violence, and the best way to curb violent ideologies is through open debate and criticism of said ideas. Unfortunately, useful idiots are always in abundance. What I mean by that is the always helpful (read: sarcasm) regressive left is at the ready to shut down any criticism since this was carried out by a young, Muslim man. Their intentions are good, no doubt, but they wind up protecting the extreme ideology that facilitates these kinds of things. At that point, ignoring the ideology’s problems, or potential problems, just for the sake of nicety or being able to throw up your hands and say, “hey man, it’s not me,” is cowardice. If you are part of a group that advocates a certain worldview, and if one of your members carries out an act of violence then you and your group have to be the first to denounce the violence and be willing to debate and take criticism. In the example of Orlando the ideology in question is anti-gay from an extreme Muslim perspective, but it should not be any different if an anti-gay extreme Christian carried out the attack. This isn’t about how Christians and Muslims should be rounded up and sent to reeducation camps, it’s not even that these people shouldn’t be allowed to have anti-gay opinions, it’s that we all need to recognize we are not the law. The law is the law, and wanton moral vigilantism is not acceptable in a society that champions law and order. We cannot have a society as diverse as ours turn into a weird mish-mash of local theocracies with death squads and moral police patrolling the streets. If you don’t like something then your options are voting, protest, running for office, or civil disobedience. Omar Mateen and Kim Davis are/were fundamentally cut from the same cloth, the only difference is that Davis didn’t kill anyone. Her actions were frustrating, and technically illegal, but at least she broke the law in such a way that nobody died. What this all comes down to is a pretty simple maxim: people have rights, ideas don’t.
And ultimately the final question is, was this terrorism? And are any of these attacks terrorism or are they “just” crimes and tragedies? As far as can be known, the man that shot Christina Grimmie had no political, or religious reason for shooting her, so it was a murder, and without sounding too callous, it was just a murder. The attack in Orlando, the attempted attack in Los Angeles, the shooting in San Bernardino and the attack at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood Clinic in November 2015 are all cases of domestic terrorism. But don’t take my word for it, Dear Reader, just check out what the FBI has to say about the matter. It might seem like semantics to label it, or not to label it as terrorism, but it is an important distinction because it has legal weight as well as social weight. You aren’t a terrorist just because you might be anti-gay, but you need to recognize that advocating violence, or acting on that violence is unacceptable.
So where does that leave us, Dear Reader? It’s easy to say that we should meet violence with more violence, and it’s a tempting solution, but it doesn’t ultimately solve anything. The one side will feel victimized and targeted and will feel even more inclined to carry out future attacks, and the vicious cycle continues. However, we cannot sit idly by and allow another Orlando to happen. We need to take nonviolent political action and recognize that criticizing an idea in an honest, and intelligent way is not the same as attacking the people. If an idea has any merit then the followers of it should be able to argue their side without resorting to threats or disengagement from discussion. There is always action as well. Write your representatives, your senators, your governor, write the damn president if you feel like getting straight to the heart of the matter. Donate to programs, but be aware of where your money is going. If there was a pro-gay rights group that was militant in their approach I would not be comfortable being a participant, I wouldn’t even be comfortable defending this hypothetical group. It all comes down to the approach. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were fighting for the same core principles, but Dr. King relied on legal means and nonviolent means to achieve his goals, and that is the way to affect change, otherwise we have one thing, and I cannot abide by it: chaos.
Speaking of action, I want to remind you that the Red Cross is (as always) in need of blood donations, so check out this link to see where you can donate blood (in Michigan, at least). Even if they have enough blood for the Orlando victims they can always use more.
Also, there are still cash donations in effect, so if you’re able to donate I urge you to. One helpful note: I’m going to wait until next week because the cash flow tends to slow down once the media whirlwind dies down, so food for thought. Each of these groups is giving the donations directly to the survivors, the families of the victims, and covering any expenses. I may not be part of the LGBTQ community, and you may not be either, Dear Reader, but I think people in need deserve our help, and I’m sure you feel the same.
As always, thanks all for reading, and if anyone has been directly impacted by this tragedy then I’m heartily sorry and hope you find solace in the coming days, weeks, and months. Grief is understandable, but don’t let it consume you. Be proud of who you are, and what you stand for, because if you abandon that then people like Omar Mateen win. I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell don’t want to live in a world where people like him are the winners.