As we begin to process and learn more about another tragic mass shooting, the world will continue to react with shock and horror, while many of us will wonder whether anything will be done. We’ll wonder whether the well-worn narrative will play out like it has another 29 times during Obama’s administration, or whether something will actually change. Are there any reasons to hope for change? I think there are.
A town called Orlando
Similar to Las Vegas, Orlando is known around the world for tourist attractions that reside just outside of its city limits. Like the Las Vegas Strip, the Disney theme parks that bring over 40 million tourists through Orlando Airport every year reside outside of Orlando in the nearby city of Kissimmee. Universal Studios is the one exception that brings tourists into the Orlando city limits, but it is still not integrated enough to allow tourists to actually get to know the city. Everyone is just ]passing though.
Tourists who wander out of what Disney deems “the happiest place on earth” and take the time to explore the city of Orlando will find a pleasant Floridian metropolis where the people are very friendly. As a complete contrast from South Florida, Miamians consider Orlando the southern-most point of the American South, and often go up to Orlando to get away from the fast pace of the MIA. To many Floridians, Orlando is quaint, clean, a charming Spanish-moss-decorated city that is nice almost to the point of being boring. Which is why it comes as such a shock that so many horrific incidents have happened in the Greater Orlando Area, like the cases of Trayvon Martin and Casey Anthony. And now this week we can add to the list the murder of ‘The Voice’ contestant Christina Grimmie and the Pulse nightclub shooting — the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.
To give Orlando, of all places, that title is almost as shocking as the incident itself. As a very liberal town, Orlando displays tolerance for varying personal, religious and political views. It has a strong LGBT community that has made Orlando known as one of the ‘Gayest Cities in America.’ Orlando also houses a prominent Mormon Temple, one that famously got the city a full song in the theatrical satire The Book of Mormon, and eight Islamic mosques.
A familiar reaction
Though America is still reeling in shock from the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, the political conversation is beginning to bubble again. During a press conference the BBC was covering, local State Senator Geraldine Thompson took the mic after Governor Rick Scott was done and started laying the public relations groundwork to pressure the Republican Governor on changing gun laws in the state of Florida. US Senator and Central Florida native Bill Nelson seemed averse to calling this an ISIL terrorist attack while acknowledging that this likely lone wolf gay club assailant was an ISIL sympathizer. Those who do believe it was linked to the Islamic militant group are saying that in communications with Omar Mateen, ISIL encouraged Mateen to ‘take advantage’ of the relaxed gun laws in the United States. Right now, these are mostly just rumours.
Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms are once again hosting the cyber political preaching of anyone with an opinion. Those who lean to the left are calling for more gun control and asking how many people must die before laws change in the U.S. Those on the right are accusing the left of blaming guns when the fault lies with radical Islam. This conversation is likely to go from Facebook and on to Capitol Hill, with both presidential candidates and President Obama already weighing in.
To everyone’s shock and dismay, Donald Trump’s first response was essentially to boast about how he predicted the Orlando shooting, and double down on his call for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration. While trying to capitalize on a wave of fear that has captured the world, in a press conference on Monday, Trump essentially said that he is the only one who could stop these shootings from happening and if he isn’t elected, ‘There will be nothing, absolutely nothing left [of the U.S].’ In his statements, which stop just short of calling himself an American Saviour, Trump mischaracterized the New York-born Omar Mateen as a foreign Afghan and alleged that the U.S. visa program is a bigger danger then the Trojan Horse was to Troy.
Hillary Clinton, in contrast, reacted by characterizing Mateen as a lone wolf, saying this is not a time for politics, then listed her three-pronged approach to dealing with such lone wolves, which she would make a top priority should she become president. Clinton’s words, which might normally be seen as a cookie cutter reaction to a national tragedy, came as a breath of fresh air when compared to Trump’s. She mentioned her experience with 9/11 and how she worked with a Republican Mayor, Governor and President to get the people of New York the things they needed in order to recover from the largest terrorist attack on American soil in U.S. history.
Trump and Hillary were already likely to take obvious partisan sides of the conversation evolving on Facebook, and which is anticipated to transition to Capitol Hill. If the reaction after the previous mass shooting is any indication of what will happen, nothing will change. In fact the National Rifle Association (NRA) will probably double down on their sickening ‘good guy with a gun’ solution as the only way to solve these mass shootings. However, there is a new group that has been introduced to the fray as major stakeholders this time: the LGBT community.
Talking politics after such pure tragedy is a fraught and sensitive business and something Donald Trump will continue to handle with extreme despicability. But a measure of political power will rest in the hands of the LGBT community and we will wait to see what they will do in the aftermath of this event. If they take the initiative, they can be the authors of the ensuing narrative evolving from the aftermath of two horrific events in Orlando. By only focusing on the Pulse shooting, the LGBT community can create a narrative around how gay rights have always been oppressed by religious views (Islamic and Christian) and work to make sure that lives aren’t taken again because of one person’s religious perspectives. Dealing with homophobia must be a top priority of the LGBT community, but one wonders whether even more can be done in Orlando. Broaden the narrative and push as hard as ever for real change.
The murderer of Christina Grimmie, who was neither Muslim nor brown, is currently not being considered a terrorist like Mateen. But it seems that both assailants were similar in the sense that they were both deranged men who hoped to strike terror into the hearts of those who would pay attention. Irrespective of motivations, their hatred and state of mind led to a tragedy that was horrifically magnified by the easy access to powerful firearms. If LGBT leaders can tell a story that links both the death of Christina Grimmie with the Pulse shooting, they can create a narrative around how gun laws in Florida contributed to both incidents, about how if the laws were different, over fifty people could still be alive. Grimmie’s assailant was Christian, while Mateen was Muslim, but both were still American citizens. As Americans their 2nd amendment right grants them the most liberal access to guns, more than any G20 country. And this access can, and frequently does, lead to the horrific amplification of tragedy.
The NRA on Tuesday took a position that defends their endorsement of Donald Trump for president, and joined him in calling for less political correctness, and more guns. Speaking from their all but trademarked absolutist ideology of the 2nd amendment, they alleged that political correctness, not guns, allowed for the greatest mass shooting in U.S history in Orlando on Sunday. In an attempt to again usurp the national conversation after a mass shooting with a carefully crafted response (that took two days to formulate), the NRA blamed Obama because the FBI interviewed Mateen several times in the past couple years, but never did anything to prevent him from carrying out these actions. According to them, policies won’t keep Americans safe, guns will, and under Hillary the U.S will just have more of Obama’s failed gun policies. While mourners are still asking for political pause in the wake of a tragic event, the NRA shows that politics never sleeps. If you do not take control of the political narrative, they will.
The NRA is likely to oppose this narrative by saying both of them had mental issues, or at least that one was a religious extremist. Perhaps they will link religious extremism to mental issues (Mateen likely could fall into both camps). So far however, everyone close to both murderers were shocked by their actions. They couldn’t tell anything was going on until they killed someone else and themselves. By the time anyone knew there was something wrong with these two men, it was too late.
The world will sit and watch what Americans will do. Americans will sit and watch what Floridians will do, and most Floridians will watch what Orlandoans will do. It’s morbid to think about the political capital that results from the largest mass shooting in American history but it might be an opportunity to finally do something about gun control. Because let’s face it, we all know another mass shooting is coming unless something changes.