Many of us woke on Monday morning to hear of the tragedy that occurred in Orlando, Florida after Pulse nightclub was terrorized by a lone gunman with a vendetta. He killed 49 before he was shot dead by police.
I think of myself as someone who has a pretty thick skin as it were—not too much that occurs in the world affects me to a point that it hinders my day-to-day functioning. However, in light of the events that have occurred I have found an unsettling sinking feeling in my stomach that I cannot shake that has kept me awake the past few nights.
Maybe this response is due to the realization that when I first heard of the shootings, I wasn’t entirely surprised. In America, we have become habituated to the regular mass shootings that occur around the country.
Following the Rosenburg community college shooting in October of 2015, Obama stated in a speech, “I hope and pray that I don’t have to come out again during my tenure as president to offer my condolences to families in these circumstances.”
Only two months after this, San Bernadino was the next place to fall victim to terrorism, and there have since been two more substantial mass shootings.
Whether it is restaurant goers like Killeen, government employees as in San Bernadino, or even elementary school children who are massacred, we have become immune to the tragedies, mourning with the families then moving on to mourn the next inevitable shooting a month later. And how much effective change has actually been made between these shootings? Apparently not enough, as exemplified by Sunday’s events.
Maybe the insomnia was because I was stuck contemplating how in England, my friends and I often go to gay bars on a night out, and I thought about how easily it could’ve been us on any occasion that was gunned down in the middle of the dance floor. But then I realised that actually no, it wasn’t that simple.
In England and many other western countries, you cannot purchase an automatic weapon at a store with no background check, nor walk into a bar carrying that firearm under the protection of the law. I have had plenty an argument with friends who tell me how it is our right as Americans under the second amendment to keep and bare arms, and yes, on that point we have agreed to disagree about the morality of such a justification.
But following these events, (apart from the fact I still find it astonishing that we follow laws written to apply to an age where we still hunted for food, and battled out differences with guns instead of words…but that is an argument for a different day), how can you justify the selling and purchasing of automatic weapons to civilians? It’s one thing if you are a combatant in a war to carry such a weapon for your defense or the quick grounding of your enemy forces, but honestly—for what reason could you give me that could justify anyone off the street being able to purchase AR-15-type assault rifle?
As if it couldn’t get any worse, maybe the fact I cannot sleep is that once again Muslims are forced to defend themselves against the accusations that Islam breeds terrorists due to one man’s perversion of a religion. I don’t even think I need to explain how grossly incorrect this is, and that if you honestly think that you have an undeniably blind misunderstanding of the world around you. Reading recently a chapter from Gregory David Robert’s Shantaram, this phrase has never been more applicable: “A wise man once told me- he’s Muslim, by the way- that he has more in common with a rational, reasonable-minded Jew than he does with a fanatic from his own religion.”
So, if you find yourself characterizing an entire religion or race of people by a small few negative representations of them, please take PSYC 2600: Introduction into Social Psychology and educate yourself on the pitfalls of discrimination.
In addition, having watched the heart-breaking clip of Anderson Cooper reading the names of the Orlando victims, trying to hold tears back, one of the things I noticed was that many of the names seemed to be Hispanic. And the thought struck me—I wonder what Trump has said about all of this. Of course, publicly he’ll condemn such violent terrorist actions, yet he has shown over the past year that he has just as much disregard for those of Hispanic descent as the shooter did.
The Orlando shooting has dredged up the worst possible aspects of America’s laws and state of politics today. It’s shameful that I’ve read about how friends abroad are honestly embarrassed to talk about American politics in Europe, as it only results in mockery that someone like Trump has a very large chance of becoming the leader of the nation.
Yet, despite the abysmal current state of politics in our country, and the creeping tendency for scapegoating and avoiding the true issues behind current events, love has prevailed. Vigils have been held in cities across the world, monuments lit up in solidarity with the LGBTQ community, and people everywhere are joining together to show their support and utter rejection of such actions. Of any community, the LGBTQ is the last to be suppressed by such cowardly violent actions. The shooting has only served to bring people closer together and has made us all aware that although laws have changed, there are still people out there that will discriminate and suppress others.
In the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, “love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love, cannot be killed or swept aside.” We can all do our part in the coming months to make sure that these lives were not lost in vain, and that we will not let xenophobia and hostile thoughts dominate our identity as a country.
The events in Orlando have shown the many issues that we are trying to deal with in America right now- racism, prejudice, gun violence and law, and of course bigotry. But we know there are enough of us that we have the capability to overcome these problems and show that differences are not something to be ashamed have, but rather something to be cherished.