By Mitchell Blatt*
There’s a temptation in American politics to jump to conclusions before all the facts are in and for activists and politicians use tragedies to push for policies that they already support. Even—or perhaps especially—in the wake of the worst mass shooting in American history and the worst terrorist attack since 9/11, the politicization of cold-blooded murder started just about as soon as the initial news reports came in.
This counterproductive reaction is born out of an understandable desire to solve problems but also—less helpfully—by a human tendency to classify things and be blinded by our biases. When a person with a particular political bias hears about an attack, their first response is to think, “Who was the perpetrator? Was he a Christian? Was he a Muslim? He must have been a member of the group that I oppose!”
Even after the perpetrator in this case was found to be a Muslim who had been investigated by the FBI before on suspicions of harboring pro-terrorism sympathies, an ACLU attorney still tried to link it to Christian conservatives simply by virtue of the fact that Christian conservatives oppose gay rights.
“The Christian Right has introduced 200 anti-LGBT bills in the last six months and people blaming Islam for this. No,” Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with ACLU’s LGBT and AIDS Project, tweeted.
This response to immediately try to blame parties that weren’t involved is the same response of some on the left after the Charlie Hebdo attack. What about the Spanish Inquisition?, some asked, and it is just as stupid, as I wrote it was then in this article for The Federalist: “Let’s Blame Christianity For Everything, And Islam For Nothing.”
Needless to say, restrictions on gay marriage can be a form of discrimination and a bad idea on their own merits, but they aren’t the same as murder. And you don’t have to talk about hypothetical Christian terrorism in order to condemn Christian terrorism; earlier this year a Christian terrorist motivated by intense opposition to abortion shot up a Planned Parenthood in Colorado.
Of course, one single incident doesn’t necessarily say anything about the kinds of strategies that should be taken. Only large scale considerations will allow us to arrive at the right solutions. But, nonetheless, if people on both the left and right want to look from this terrible tragedy for solutions to try to decrease the likelihood of similar attacks from happening again, then let us find some answers first as to whether the proposed policies would actually make an impact.
Would bombing ISIS work?
Donald Trump called for increasing the amount of bombings of ISIS. “”We don’t know who they are. It’s absolute war, but we don’t have uniforms, we don’t know who it is or where they’re coming from,” he said on “Fox and Friends.”
1.) Would the shooter have not been able to do the attack if ISIS was being bombed in even greater frequency than they are now?
One would ask, if we don’t know who they are and where they are coming from, then how do we know who to bomb? That would be the reason why we need more answers first.
But, as it is, in this case we do know who it was. The murderer was Omar Mateen, an American-born citizen, whose father immigrated from Afghanistan, who was investigated by the FBI after making comments about terrorism. Given that the terrorist was an American and was living in America, how could bombing ISIS in Syria have stopped him?
2.) Was the attack motivated or planned in connection with ISIS?
The shooter called 911 during the attack and claimed to have pledged his support to ISIS. But does that really mean ISIS was involved? There is no information that ISIS knew about the attack or was involved in it. Another question is whether he was even motivated by ISIS. He was described by his father as an anti-gay bigot—and he had been a frequent customer of the club in question—so he could have committed the attack out of his own (self-)hatred whether or not ISIS existed.
However, it is at least worth considering whether the prominence of ISIS, both being actively involved in other international attacks and in occupying a huge “caliphate” in the Middle East, doesn’t glamorize the idea of terrorism in the eyes of radical Muslim extremists and increase the willingness of edge cases to put their hate into action. In that sense, decimating ISIS’s overseas presence could decrease the number of lone wolf attacks.
3.) Isn’t the U.S. already bombing ISIS?
Yes, the U.S. has been bombing ISIS since 2014. There’s a limit to how much can be done from the air. Should the U.S. put boots on the ground? Would it be worth the sacrifice? Would troops be able to push ISIS out without exacerbating other problems? Those are the questions one would have to consider even if they think attacking ISIS abroad is a good idea with relation to this attack.
Would restricting immigration work?
Donald Trump proposed banning Muslims from entering the U.S. after the San Bernardino shooting. After briefly going mushy on the issue, Trump is now back to emphasizing his plan. But would it have stopped this attack and others like it?
4.) Would the Pulse attack have been prevented if non-American Muslims weren’t allowed into America?
The shooter was an American-born citizen. The ban wouldn’t have impacted him.
5.) Okay, but might it have prevented his father from having immigrated?
If a blanket ban on Muslim immigration was enforced throughout the history of the U.S.—or at least since the 1960’s or 70’s—then the shooter wouldn’t have been in born in America. However, there would still be non-Muslim terrorists and also gang members and common criminals in the U.S. Critics of Trump’s proposed Muslim ban would argue that banning Muslims across the board is a discriminatory idea whose costs, in terms of discrimination, social division, and destruction to America’s international reputation, are not worth whatever gains might come.
Would gun control work?
Liberals have argued that the attack—the shooting—caused such a high death toll due to the easy availability of high-powered guns, especially those referred to as “assault rifles.” In particular, many outlets are reporting that the shooter used an AR-15, a rifle that is among those Democrats have tried to ban through a failed assault weapons bill.
5.) Did the shooter use an AR-15?
This is perhaps the biggest and most mysterious contention between liberal advocates of gun control and conservative opponents of gun control. After many mass shootings, it is reported that an AR-15 was used, and conservatives write that an AR-15 wasn’t used.
The Washington Post reports that the shooter used an AR-15, the same gun that has also been used in the shootings at San Bernardino, Calif.; Aurora, Colo.; and Newtown, Conn. The gun rights blog Bearing Arms reported, however, that the weapon was a Sig Sauer MCX carbine.
The Sig Saucer’s brochure notes that the MCX carbine has an “AR-15 Type” mag type.
The Orlando police were also quoted as reporting that a Sig Saucer MCX was found on the shooter’s person, and there was no mention of an AR-15:
He had a Glock 17 handgun purchased on June 5, a Sigsauer MCX assault rifle purchased on June 4 on his person during the shootout, and investigators later found a .38-caliber weapon in his vehicle.
The dispute between what to call the gun could be due to the fact that AR-15 is now, like “kleenex” and “xerox,” a brand name that is used by many as a generic term for a series of similar guns. According to Rolling Stone,
Mateen carried two guns with him Sunday: a 9mm handgun and a .223 caliber AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle. [Editor’s note: Note the use of “-style.”]
The standard magazine for a Glock, like the one Mateen carried, is 15 rounds. The Sig Sauer MCX rifle Mateen used had double that capacity: 30 rounds.
AR stands for “ArmaLite rifle,” after the company the developed the gun for use by the U.S. military in the 1950s. (The military’s version, nearly indistinguishable from the AR-15, is called the M-16.) Today Colt holds the AR-15 trademark, but some 282 manufacturers make their own versions of the gun and its parts, according to a 2014 accounting by AR-15 enthusiasts.
Think Progress, a liberal blog, also referred to the gun in the same way as Rolling Stone: as “an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle.”
If Congress tries to pass an assault weapons ban, the definition of what specific guns are being banned will be a sticking point, and there will be dispute as to what guns should be classes as such.
6.) Would banning the AR-15 or other similar rifles decrease the number of people killed in mass shootings?
One of the proposals from Democrats and liberals to cut down on mass shooting deaths is to regulate the kinds of guns civilians can purchase. During the Clinton administration, an assault riffles ban was passed, and California Democrat Dianne Feinstein tried to get one passed in 2013. Though her bill won the support of a majority of senators, it failed because Republicans filibustered it, preventing it from clearing a supermajority.
The argument is that such semiautomatic rifles that shoot in relatively continuous sprays and hold a large amount of bullets are more deadly more quickly than other kinds of guns. Clearly, however, one does not need an AR-15 or even a rifle to kill many people. Seung-Hui Cho, for example, murdered 32 people on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007 with two pistols. That was one example, though, nine years ago.
Academic studies have found mixed results, and it is hard to say how much of these results are attributable to the assault riffles ban and how many are attributable to the innumerable other variables in a country over a period of time.
Mass shootings, also, are a small amount of all homicides—“less than 1% claimed 3 or more victims”—so even if such a ban made an impact on mass shootings, it wouldn’t make a big impact on all homicides (though one could argue that mass shootings are worse).
7.) Would banning people on the terrorist watch list from buying guns cut down on terrorist attacks?
Recently, as the San Bernardino, Paris, and Orlando shootings have shown, there has been a trend of terrorists using guns to murder their victims. They have racked up large death counts.
Should people suspected of being terrorists, then, be banned from purchasing guns?
This shooter was actually being investigated by the FBI, but he wasn’t under investigation at the time. He himself wouldn’t have been stopped, then, but maybe other potential terrorists would have been.
The conservative counter argument is that terrorists could just purchase a gun on the black market. Of course people can, but having to do so on the black market does put up one more barrier and make it that much harder.
Another conservative argument is that many people on the terrorist watch list are not actually terrorists. Some people have been stopped from boarding planes just because they have a similar name to a suspected terrorist. In that sense, then, shouldn’t conservatives be arguing for scaling back the terrorist watch list? Should we be preventing people from flying (or making it harder for them to fly) but not restricting their rights to purchase guns at all? The U.S. does restrict people’s rights to buy guns for other reasons, like mental illness (though Republicans also oppose some of those measures on similar grounds).
That many completely innocent people are on the terrorist watch list shows the government can easily make mistakes, and that many future terrorists are not on the terrorist watch list shows that it is impossible to read people’s minds or see what they will be doing in the future.
8.) Would giving drunk people the right to shoot back stop terrorism?
Conversely, Donald Trump said, “[I]f you had guns in that room, even if you had a number of people having it strapped to your ankle or strapped to their waste, where bullets could have flown in the other direction right at him, you wouldn’t have had the same kind of a tragedy.”
In effect, conservatives either want the local or national governments to pass laws allowing people to carry guns concealed and make it easy for people to purchase guns (a legislative fix) or to pressure bars and public places to allow people to do so where they currently don’t. In some cases, Republicans even support laws guaranteeing the public’s right to carry guns in public places, overriding the owner’s rights to regulate guns on their own premises. (North Texas lawmaker aims to limit gun-free zones)
If some of the patrons of Pulse had guns and shot back, would they have been able to kill the terrorist before 49 civilians died? In fact, there already were good guys with guns on the scene. A security guard outside did fire at the killer, but he was able to enter. Two police officers also shot at him early on in the attack to no avail. According to Reid Henrichs, a former Marine and police officer who is now a firearms instructor, interviewed by Bearing Arms, “It could have been over with one round, in the first couple of seconds. … Poor marksmanship allowed this to take place.”
If a security guard and a few police officers couldn’t stop it, would an untrained customer with a gun have stopped it? Should police officers get better training at marksmanship?
Even if allowing guns into public places, including bars, might decrease the unlikely risk of mass shootings, might it also increase the risks of ordinary arguments escalating too quickly? People, when they get drunk, can act impulsively and lose self-control. Could someone who gets involved in a bar fight that would have otherwise ended in injury pull out a gun and end it in homicide?
There is also the fact that even if people have the right to carry guns into a bar (according to Florida law, they don’t appear to), most people will not do so. Most Americans do not own guns in the first place, and of those who do, not all of them carry their guns everywhere they go.
About the author:
*Mitchell Blatt moved to China in 2012, and since then he has traveled and written about politics and culture throughout Asia. A writer and journalist, based in China, he is the lead author of Panda Guides Hong Kong guidebook and a contributor to outlets including The Federalist, China.org.cn, The Daily Caller, and Vagabond Journey. Fluent in Chinese, he has lived and traveled in Asia for three years, blogging about his travels at ChinaTravelWriter.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @MitchBlatt.
This article was published at Bombs and Dollars