According to Donald Trump, he has been congratulated “for being right on radical Islamic terrorism” after 50 people died by a lone gunman’s hand in an Orlando, Florida, nightclub. The shooting, however, proves him wrong on several major points that unite his supporters. Even though they will ignore the proof, it’s worth laying out.
During the primary campaign, Trump kept using the November terror attacks in Paris to make the point that strict gun regulations increase the casualty count. France, he said over and over, had “the toughest gun laws in the world.” Because of them, only the bad guys had guns. Had it been otherwise, fewer people would have died, Trump told applauding audiences.
At the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, 1,500 people were in the audience and, as Trump said, nobody had guns. Three gunmen killed 89 of the concert-goers.
But at the Pulse club in Orlando, about 320 people were present when Omar Mateen went on the rampage. A security guard — a cop working extra duty — opened fire, and two other officers who’d been nearby backed him up. Even so, the lone attacker managed to kill 50 people, a much bigger proportion of those present than in Paris.
Florida, with a permissive attitude to the National Firearms Act, is ranked 12th among the “best states for gun owners” by Guns & Ammo. Last year, the magazine gushed that:
“For many years, Florida’s gun laws have been the envy of gun owners nationwide. The Sunshine State places no restrictions upon modern firearms, magazines or NFA items, and the state has a healthy competitive shooting network.”
I have heard U.S. gun advocates claim that allowing more “good guys” to be armed serves as a deterrent to criminals, who are looking for victims, not a fight. The argument has always struck me as theoretical: It depends on the criminal and on how angry, skillful and indifferent to his survival he may be. Mateen has proved the theory wrong. As someone who carried a gun as part of his job, he was confident he’d do enough damage even if confronted.
If the Paris tragedy proved anything, it’s that the relative looseness or toughness of gun laws is not the deciding factor. Criminals will still be able to get guns even if you limit magazine size or stop gun sales to people who, like Mateen, have been scrutinized by the Federal Bureau of Investigations for terrorist connections. Stricter French rules didn’t stop the attackers there. Nevertheless, Florida’s permissive gun culture probably helped Mateen more than it hindered him.
The other point Trump is missing is about “radical Islamic terrorism” and its relationship to bigotry. The Orlando shooter clearly targeted gays. The shooter’s father has said Mateen had hated gays for kissing in front of his own kid. That didn’t necessarily have anything to do with his brand of Islam or whatever Islamic State connection he may have had. Homophobia isn’t imported into the U.S. by Muslims, whom Trump still wants to ban from entering the U.S.: Even at its most violent, it’s prevalent in countries with Christian majorities, too, and in the U.S. itself.
Last year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report on anti-gay discrimination and violence. Global statistics on hate crimes against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people are not compiled, but the report cited data from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights about 594 hate-related killings of LGBT people in the 25 members of the Organization of American States between January 2013 and March 2014.
In the U.S., the FBI reported 999 hate crimes against LGBT people in 2014, the latest year for which data are available. It’s not clear how many of these were murders — probably very few, since the FBI only registered four hate-motivated murders that year — but there were plenty of violent assaults.
U.S.-born Mateen didn’t have to be a Muslim or an Islamic State fighter to make the leap from gay-bashing to spraying bullets in that nightclub. Whether Trump likes it or not — and, for electoral purposes, he does appear to like it at times — hate transcends religions and affiliations. Just ask Dylann Roof, who shot up a black congregation in Charleston a year ago.
Trump’s recipes for the prevention of further tragedies like the one in Orlando — branding of terrorism as “Islamic,” restricting entry for Muslims, maintaining lax gun laws — are at best inefficient. At worst, they lead to more hatred. As it is, in 2014, there were 154 anti-Islamic incidents in the U.S.; Muslims are the second most-attacked religious group after Jews. Keeping gun laws soft does nothing to complicate access to the most gruesome way of venting one’s bigotry.
Leonid Bershidsky, a Bloomberg View contributor, is a Berlin-based writer.