In the Shadow of a Gunman: Thoughts on a Massacre and What We Must Do to Stop the Next One | News Feature | Indy Week

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In the Shadow of a Gunman: Thoughts on a Massacre and What We Must Do to Stop the Next One



The worst mass killing in modern American history happened a mile from where I used to live.

By now you know the basics: on Saturday night, a mentally unstable waste of human flesh named Omar Mateen, supposedly outraged by the site of two men kissing in Miami, armed himself with an assault rifle and handgun and drove the hour and a half from Fort Pierce to Orlando, where, after pledging allegiance to the Islamic State, he proceeded to shoot up an LGBTQ club called Pulse.

Forty-nine dead. Fifty-three wounded. An entire city utterly and completely gut-punched.

My city, even six hundred miles away. My people, even though I don't know any of the dead.

I spent my formative years in Orlando, first as a student and then as a reporter. I met my wife there. I met my best friends there, including some who are pillars of the now-devastated gay community. From 2012–2013, I owned a house a few blocks east of where Pulse sits in south Orlando. I went to Pulse on several occasions, with gay and straight friends alike. I drank at bars now littered with bullet holes. I danced on floors now covered in blood. I used the bathrooms where terrified victims tried to hide.

Which is all to say: this one hit home, viscerally, tangibly, in a way that mass shootings in Aurora and San Bernardino and even Sandy Hook didn't.

Mateen, who had a Florida firearms license, bought his weapons legally, from a gun store in Fort Pierce. He acquired a 9mm semiautomatic handgun, a .223-calibre AR-type rifle, and a high-capacity magazine, no questions asked, even though he'd been on the FBI's radar, having falsely claimed ties to the Boston Marathon bombers in 2013. His ex-wife says he used steroids and beat her. A coworker at the large private security company G4S—Mateen was a security guard at a local courthouse—told USA Today that he frequently went on racist and homophobic tirades. In other words, he's exactly the kind of person who should not be able to Rambo up with ease. But that's exactly what he did.

As the horror set in, politicians from around the country offered their "thoughts and prayers" to Orlando—meaningless utterances obscuring their unwillingness to embrace or even contemplate real solutions, things like an assault-weapons ban and tighter background checks that are supported by six in ten and nine in ten Americans, respectively, according to recent Quinnipiac polling.

Righteous anger at the senseless killings that have become altogether commonplace—there were 133 mass shootings in America in the first 164 days of 2016, according to the Gun Violence Archive—is no match, it seems, for the power of the National Rifle Association, which spent more than $30 million in the 2014 election cycle alone and has effectively vetoed even the smallest infringements on unfettered gun rights.

This control is so absolute that, right now, federal funds cannot even be used to study gun violence the way we study every other public health issue, because studying gun violence might eventually lead to new gun regulations, and we can't have that.

Which presents a troubling question: Twenty dead elementary school kids (and six teachers) in Sandy Hook didn't soften lawmakers' fealty to the gun lobby. What reason is there to think fifty dead revelers at a gay bar will?

"That's the right question to ask," U.S. Representative David Price, who for the last year has been leading an as-yet unsuccessful charge to restore gun violence research, told me Monday. "I know the answer most people are giving is no."

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