Fifty people are dead. Fifty human beings – people with hopes, dreams, and loved ones – are now gone from this world, their lives extinguished by a single man with a gun. For those who are unaware, I am referring to the June 12, 2016 mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, where Omar Mateen carried a pistol and assault rifle into the Pulse nightclub and opened fire, killing 50 and wounding at least 53. A single man, armed only with his two guns and his hatred, chose to murder 50 innocent people, and intended to kill many more. The guns are not to blame here; guns are merely the tools that enabled Mateen to take so many lives. Mateen is clearly to blame, and yet, we must ask ourselves how he was able to acquire those guns in the first place.
Did he get them from the black market? Was he supplied by ISIS or some other terrorist organization? No. He walked into a gun shop, like many other proud, responsible gun owners, and purchased his firearms legally – a clear demonstration of the inadequacy of our gun laws. The guns Mateen used were purchased within the past two weeks. Nobody batted an eye when he bought an assault rifle, and now fifty people are dead.
As news of Mateen’s actions spread, many Americans, much like myself, took to the internet to voice their opinions. The gun control debate had resurfaced, and as usual there were two sides: those who believed that the United States needed to place more restrictions on guns, and those who believed that guns should still be readily available. Some members of the second group even went so far as to say that if more people in Orlando had guns, they could have stepped in and stopped Mateen sooner.
I must admit, they have a point; if someone in that nightclub had been armed, they might have been able to take down the shooter much earlier. However, it is much more likely that, in the crowded environment of a nightclub, said “proud gun owner” would have ended up shooting someone other than Mateen, and that would be one more life lost. Instead of encouraging everyone to strap a pistol to their belt and an AR-15 to their backs so that we can “stop these mass shootings sooner”, why don’t we do more to prevent them in the first place? If Mateen had never been able to acquire his guns to begin with, we would have stopped the shooting before it had even begun. There would be no families grieving tonight.
But we didn’t stop him. In our quest to preserve and celebrate the Second Amendment, we leave ourselves more and more open to these heinous acts of violence. Gun advocates are quick to exclaim, “Well I’ve had my guns for years and they’ve never killed anyone”, as if that proves that guns can do no harm.
Guns are not just tools, they are weapons. They are built for killing. The thing that matters is not the gun, but the person pulling the trigger. By making guns so readily available, we are giving each and every American citizen the power to decide who lives, and who dies. That is a power that, evidently, we are not all prepared to wield.
I’m sure many people will be offended by the stance that I’m taking on gun ownership, but I’m not going to apologize. I will not be convinced that your right to own however many guns and however much ammunition you want is more important than even a single human life.
If we continue to allow guns to be so readily available, then we are continuing to allow these mass shootings to happen. We are telling the victims and the victims’ families that their lives are not worth the inconvenience that would result from tighter regulations on guns. For most of us, these shootings are occurring in faraway cities, and the victims are people we have never met and now never will meet.
We did not wish for this loss of life, but we can never understand the pain it causes to those families who lose loved ones to these mass shootings. We tell them that we are sorry for their loss, but we do not do enough to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. And they will happen again, that much has been made all too clear.
Eventually, these shootings will come to each and every one of us. We will lose friends and family, and even our own lives, if we choose to do nothing. I’m not so naïve that I would think that all mass shootings and acts of terror could be stopped just by banning guns and cracking down on terrorism. There would always be those who could outsmart the system and find guns anyways. People would still die. But we aren’t even trying to stop them.
We’re letting men like Omar Mateen walk into a gun shop and legally purchase an assault rifle and (at the very least) 103 rounds of ammunition. What on Earth do you need that much firepower for? Whatever may have been done to stop him, it clearly wasn’t enough, and we need to do more. With every increase in gun security, we make it that much harder for criminals to acquire their guns, and when they try, we make it that much more likely that they get caught. It wouldn’t stop everyone, but even if it only stopped one gunman, even if it only saved one life, it would be worth it.
Fueled by Hatred
Of course, there is another side to this that we cannot overlook. The shooting took place at an LGBT nightclub, with a shooter who was very clearly homophobic. Though the LGBT community has had several significant victories in the past few years and recently gained marriage equality in all fifty states, they still are one of the most victimized groups in America.
Most of the widespread dislike of gays comes from the fact that many religions, including Christianity, define a proper union as being between a man and a woman. Those who oppose gay marriage are often all too happy to tell the world about it as well; I would only need to log in to my old Facebook account to see countless posts condemning gay marriage, plenty of which, sadly, would be coming from my own relatives.
Luckily, most of the opponents of the LGBT community never go further than complaining about them on the internet, but Omar Mateen clearly took things much, much further. Though we would all like to distance ourselves from such disgusting actions, there is no denying that Mateen’s decision to kill so many people at that LGBT nightclub was rooted in that same hate – that same fear of something that your religion tells you is wrong – that prompts my relatives to post Bible quotes that condemn gay relationships.
If we want to move past these mass shootings and leave them in the past, we must leave along with them our hate and our fear of those who are different from us. We need to learn to accept that if someone is living in a way that makes them happy, and that lifestyle is not hurting themselves or others, then we should be happy for them. Just as we cannot walk down to Mexico and force them to begin speaking exclusively in English, we cannot impose our beliefs and religious values on those who choose to live differently.
I know that since I am urging my readers to support more gun laws and coexist with the LGBT community, both of which I strongly believe in, I may seem a bit hypocritical, but I am not trying to force you to think the same as me. I am trying to convince you, through my writing and my reasoning, that change is necessary. Feel free to disagree with me, and feel free to try to convince me otherwise if you so choose. You are entitled to free thought just as much as you are entitled to live and breathe, and that is why I ask each and every one of you to encourage changes that will allow so many others to live and breathe another day.