Politics is life and death.
There is no divorcing a mass shooting from the public policies that directly determine the availability and ease of obtaining firearms.
We happen to live in a rather strange sort of society, where 40% of gun sellers don’t have to conduct criminal background checks on buyers, where we have license and registration requirements (“government databases”) for cars but not firearms, where people on the terror watch list/no fly list can legally purchase guns and ammo, where people largely aren’t required to report stolen guns, and where people can buy assault rifles (used to kill homosexuals in Orlando, children at Newtown, theatergoers in Aurora, students at Roseburg, and workers in San Bernardino) legally. There is ample evidence (see The Last Article on Guns You Will Ever Need to Read) that correcting these problems, while not a perfect solution that will prevent all gun deaths, can make it more difficult for would-be killers to obtain weapons, give authorities better means and more time to track and apprehend would-be killers, and reduce the number (and scale) of mass shootings and petty crimes involving guns.
There is, further, no separating the murder of homosexuals from the political climate of civil rights.
It is true, unquestionably, that religion — whether Islam, Christianity, or other — is a driving force behind the disgust and hatred toward homosexuals (see Hysteria Over Homosexuality Linked to Too Much Religion, Too Little Science). America has Christian church leaders who say gays should be executed, pastors who celebrated the mass killing in Orlando (Steven Anderson: “The good news is that there’s 50 less pedophiles in this world, because, you know, these homosexuals are a bunch of disgusting perverts and pedophiles”), and Christian citizens who murder homosexuals, using the Old Testament as justification. This could easily have been a Christian terrorist.
People will have to let go of ancient religious ideas to help solve this problem, but our public policies regarding homosexual and trans Americans can create either a climate of acceptance, tolerance, and equality, or discrimination, derision, and second-class citizenship. Gay marriage was only legalized across the country in mid-2015. In early 2016, Mississippi — the last holdout — was forced to allow gay couples to adopt children. Republican states are fighting viciously to allow private businesses and organizations to refuse service to gay people, using religious beliefs as justification. You can still be fired for being gay in 28 states — equal opportunity laws are not extended to LGBT citizens. The idea of trans people using bathrooms that match their gender identity, despite the fact they had been doing so for some time, suddenly caused mass hysteria among conservatives, with states in the South trying to make it illegal. Gay men are largely restricted from giving blood, adding an unthinkable level of absurdity to the Orlando attack, only the latest among yearly hate crimes against gays, some 20% of all hate crimes.
Can it be imagined that public policies that teach citizens that discrimination and inequality is acceptable somehow do not contribute to a climate of intolerance and hostility, its most extreme form being violence? Would it not be more sensible to push for and implement political ideas that encourage total inclusion and equality? While not a perfect solution, it may help create a society where anti-gay thought and action is less socially acceptable (similar to how anti-black racism has become much less acceptable and more subtle in recent decades, since the political successes of the civil rights movement), on top of being the right thing to do in a country that speaks of all people being equal. This holds true whether or not the Orlando killer was a homosexual — a tolerant environment can reduce self-hate as well.
Finally, there’s the political causes of terrorism. Again, religion plays a role — Islamic terror groups sincerely believe they are doing God’s will, as so many others believed when committing atrocities throughout history, including Christians.
But the focus of groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda on the United States is largely a result of American politics — namely, a foreign policy that killed many Arabs and Muslims long before 9/11 (see A History of Violence: Facing U.S. Wars of Aggression).
Both U.S. intelligence officials and Osama bin Laden himself made it quite clear that American military intervention and support for brutal Middle East dictators and official enemies over the past few decades made the U.S. a symbol of evil, worthy of revenge attacks. A Pentagon advisory panel explained, “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather they hate our policies”; bin Laden put it less politely when he wrote, “Why are we fighting and opposing you?… Because you attacked us and continue to attack us… Your forces occupy our countries; you spread your military bases throughout them.” Further enraging Islamic extremists were U.S. military bases near Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, U.S. support for Israel, the massive death toll of innocent Muslim civilians in Somalia, Lebanon, and especially Iraq during and after the 1991 Gulf War (over 500,000 Iraqi children under age 5 died as a result of economic sanctions imposed on Iraq by the U.S. after the Iraqi army was driven from Kuwait; U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Madeline Albright infamously said, “We think the price is worth it”).
The U.S. of course is not the only nation to be targeted. When the British and French occupied the Middle East after World War I, they were the targets of terror. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in the 1980s, the U.S.S.R. was the “Great Satan.” Nations that joined the U.S. invasion of Iraq became bombing targets, like Spain in 2004 (191 killed) and Britain in 2007 (52 killed). After France took a major role in bombing ISIS, the terror group killed 129 people in Paris in November 2015 — not a coincidence, according to French intelligence officials and ISIS itself, who warned France would stay at “the top of the target list” if they continued their “strikes…in Muslim lands.” After predicting and even welcoming the rise of ISIS, the U.S. began bombing the barbaric terror group when it took over Syria and northern Iraq. ISIS publicly promised revenge.
In other words, the U.S. is caught in a cycle of violence, where extremist terror attacks and U.S. bombings or invasions feed each other. This is not difficult to understand. No need to wonder why 9/11 did not happen to Switzerland. Or why ISIS currently is not attacking Japan. U.S. foreign policy will have consequences. To avoid future terror attacks, we will have to make drastically different political decisions.
This is not to say if the U.S. military was not mired in the Middle East that 50 people who enjoyed an evening at a gay club in Orlando would still be alive. There is no way to know at this moment how greatly ISIS-type violence inspired the Orlando shooter to act on his extreme hatred for homosexuals — or if it had much influence at all. But there is no question ending foreign wars and embracing peace would lead to fewer and fewer calls from murderous terror groups to attack the United States. Fewer extremists will deem it necessary. Then, as in other nations not currently on terror groups’ “target lists,” the U.S. might find the safety and security it longs for.
The voices that insist tragedies should not be “politicized” are, quite frankly, crafting an excuse for inaction. People are right to immediately begin discussing political issues like gun control when a mass shooting occurs. True, there will be politicization that one does not care for — immediate calls to increase American bombings against ISIS, say, or calls for “more guns” to “increase safety” — but it is necessary during times of tragedy to consider a change of course. Tragedies are sometimes a sign that our country is moving down the wrong path, and that perhaps we should find a different one. Changing course will require different political decision-making, and it will need to happen quickly — American memory is fleeting.
Politics is life and death.
For more from the author, subscribe and follow or read his books.