An event as horrific as the assault on Orlando’s Pulse nightclub has inspired more than simple anger and frustration over the number of dead and wounded. There’s that familiar numbness, a moment of disbelief, confusion over what motivated the shooter, and the eventual spiteful acknowledgement: it happened again. The furies this mass murder unleashed have gone beyond the gunman and endless media coverage into political displays well-suited to campaign season. Some have taken the occasion to sell a narrow version of events and trot out a favorite villain, but they’re all missing something. An ACLU staff attorney pointed to Christian conservatives and implicated an estimated 200 “anti-LGBT” bills for creating “an anti-queer climate.” Chase Strangio elaborated in a Twitter post directed at House Speaker Paul Ryan where he wrote “there will be no self-reflection and people like you will continue to fuel and embolden this type of hatred.” The problem with Strangio’s tough-talking search for a religious zealot to blame is evident in messages the shooter left behind. He was not praising a demagogue like Roger Jimenez or demanding more laws like the now-infamous HB 2; he pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Baghdadi, demanded an end to US airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, and promised a taste of “Islamic State vengeance.”
The president’s visit to Orlando took a different approach. The frustration brought on by presiding over multiple memorials like this one is plainly evident and easy to understand. What’s troublesome for the one-time Illinois senator is his tendency to use the events as a stage to tout new gun laws; his choice of words could hurt what is evidently an important cause. So there are better ways to win support, “show the best of our humanity,” and cross political lines to stop potential killers than to demand opponents of gun control legislation favored by the White House “defend the easy accessibility of assault weapons” then “meet these families and explain why that makes sense.” The most obstinent Republican in Congress can be dreadfully wrong on policy, but is still not complicit in this attack, or any other, for opposing an assault weapons ban, no-fly list ban, or universal background checks. The president’s attempt to blur that line and assign collective guilt rests on an apparent belief the potential lone-wolf without a criminal record would be hobbled by something short of a blanket assault weapons ban or stopped by anything short of a mandatory buyback like one carried out in Australia and favored by his potential successor. Still, this president continues to gnaw on a well-worn proposal while stubbornly ignoring other factors.
Any hint of terrorism is sure to draw out the ever-burning trash can fire that is the Trump campaign: the presumptive GOP nominee was on this one in a matter of hours, but his response went beyond a call for President Obama to resign. While promising vigilance, the New York billionaire revived his notorious Muslim travel ban, this one targeted at areas of the world with a “proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies.” A broad-based approach like Trump’s sounds great from the stage and could work well for Europe; its potential effectiveness in the US remains doubtful. Why? In the past seven years there have been six attacks on American soil generally regarded as jihadi in nature that involved nine assailants — only one was a first-generation immigrant. There are others…among the September 11 hijackers. Some of the newer antagonists were second-generation immigrants, a majority had been to the middle East or marinated in on-line propaganda, two were investigated by the FBI, one lied to the bureau about a planned trip to Somalia. The resources that would be dedicated to keeping millions out could be better spent attacking jihad’s digital outposts and investigating the hundreds of Americans who have gone to fight in Iraq and Syria. This one won’t get to the stage; its arrival would mean Trump sidestepped what has become a signature scheme.