47° Good Morning
47° Good Morning

After the Orlando massacre, mourning and soul searching

Austin Ellis, a member of Metropolitan Community Church,

Austin Ellis, a member of Metropolitan Community Church, carries a cross with a sign in memory of the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting as he marches in the 2016 Gay Pride Parade on June 12, 2016 in Philadelphia. Credit: Getty Images / Jessica Kourkounis

The madness goes on.

Omar Mateen now holds the fatality record for American mass shootings, having eclipsed with a handgun and an assault rifle the 27 people killed at the Sandy Hook school in Connecticut and the 32 at Virginia Tech. As a result of Mateen’s fanaticism, we awoke to unbearable heartache Sunday: at least 50 people killed and another 53 injured at a club called Pulse that is an anchor for the gay community in Orlando, Florida. Mateen was killed by responding police officers, whose actions amid the chaos are credited with saving lives.

Americans were told by some commentators, even before an investigation could be properly undertaken, that the attack was a wake-up call about radical Islam, terrorism and Muslims in general. Born in New York of parents from Afghanistan, Mateen pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 call before the attack.

It is deeply disturbing to see yet another attack on innocent people seemingly launched in the name of Islam, but little was confirmed about Mateen’s beliefs or affiliations.

We were told it was a wake-up call about the availability of guns and assault weapons, about gun-show loopholes and breakdowns in the background-check system and mental illness. But Mateen reportedly had no criminal record and was steadily employed by a Florida security firm for nine years. If so, he could have bought any legal weapon legally. And while it’s true some weapons make mass murder too easy, and we commonly hear calls to ban “assault weapons,” that term is a fuzzy one, and exactly what would be banned is unclear.

We need not hurry to lobby for our favored explanations and to demand specific solutions. While details of this tragedy are learned, we can simply mourn for lives ended and shattered. And for one besieged group, once again targeted. We must immediately and forcefully address this seemingly pointed assault on the gay community.

In his address to the nation, President Barack Obama said the clubgoers were at Pulse “to be with friends, to dance, to sing and to live.” His words echoed the Declaration of Independence. Those killed and injured were endowed by their creator and our laws with certain unalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The clubgoers were shot during the joyous exercise of their liberties.

Mateen’s father said his son recently saw two men kiss and was enraged by it. In that there are echoes of Charleston, South Carolina, of the killings of nine black churchgoers by a white man whose open racism too often went unchallenged. That massacre a year ago this week brought down the Confederate flag from State House grounds in South Carolina, and started a conversation about the danger of unchallenged racism.

As the Orlando investigation advances, we will debate guns and religion and mental illness and terrorism. We also must confront the fact that too often, in our national conversation and in personal ones, distaste and disgust for gay and transgender people goes unchallenged, contributing to a climate in which hatred appears acceptable, and violence becomes inevitable. Mateen not only killed patrons in a gay nightclub in Florida, he attacked the freedom of all Americans. — The editorial board