Man at His Best

Opinion: What We Lose With Every Mass Shooting

Charles P. Pierce believes Orlando is not merely the destruction of innocence. It's worse.​

BY CHARLES P. PIERCE | Jun 13, 2016 | Culture


On Sunday, in the wake of the massacre at Pulse in Orlando, the president got up in the White House and, for the 15th time in his presidency, addressed the nation on the subject of the mass murder of its citizens by gunfire. He was not at his best. He seemed exhausted and his thoughts were disjointed. Of course, this being the 15th one of these he's had to give, it's no surprise that the statement sounded as though he were speaking a bit by rote.

This being the 15th one of these he's had to give over the eight years of his presidency, he probably feels somewhat burdened  by how little has changed in the wake of the previous 14 statements he'd given on the subject. I would not blame the man if, at this point, he simply threw up his hands at the possibility of weaning this country off its suicidal affection for its firearms. 

So I was struck by the thought that Barack Obama has had to preside over more mass shootings of Americans than any president since Abraham Lincoln. That was a bit sobering, I must admit, and it must be more so for him.

(The only possible flaw in my calculation would be those presidents after Lincoln who presided over the mass killings of Native Americans. This will require further research as this country's suicidal affection for its firearms has a long and bloody history.)

Barack Obama has had to preside over more mass shootings of Americans than any president since Abraham Lincoln. 

The shooting in Orlando, as it turns out, was one of two attempts at mass murder connected to Pride events being held in the various LGBT communities around the country. It was merely the one that succeeded. Just as the police in Orlando were producing details about Omar Mateen, the Los Angeles Times reported that a man had been arrested in a car full of weapons and explosives that was headed for the West Hollywood Gay Pride Parade.

So before we start talking about banning anyone from a Muslim country, or even before we wring our hands again about how easy it is to get your hands on an AR-15, a weapon that is built for, and exists only, to kill people in this country, we should all accept that, for all the advancements that have been made in ensuring equal rights for our fellow citizens who are gay, there is still a kind of virulent hate that we can see in its more polite forms in our legislatures and some of our courtrooms, and now we can see it in its most raw and unreconstructed form in our nightclubs. 

The events in Orlando do nothing more than demolish our most treasured illusions about ourselves and our country and—most trivially—our politics. How many of the congresscritters now sending "thoughts and prayers" to the victims in Orlando, and to their families, spent a lot of time in their day jobs making the everyday lives of those victims more miserable than they had to be? There's still an audience for clean-shaven, well-tailored bigotry of all faiths.

Yes, it appears that Mateen might have come to his violence through his religion, which will make him no different from practically any homophobe—including, I would point out, Eric Rudolph, who bombed the Atlanta Olympics. Allegedly, shortly before he opened fire, he called the local 911 operator and "pledged allegiance" (whatever that means to a guy walking into a club intending to slaughter 50 people) to ISIL, which has claimed responsibility, which is what it would do, under the circumstances. 

 The FBI also revealed Sunday afternoon that it had interviewed Mateen twice since 2013. After the FBI had delivered this news, an ATF official on the scene then explained why Mateen was still able to go into some gun store in Florida and buy a handgun and an AR-15 even though the FBI had talked to him twice in the past three years about his possible connection with alleged terrorists. The ATF's answer, which I am admittedly paraphrasing here, is that this is America, and that's how that goes.

It is never innocence which gets lost in these episodes. It's illusions. Americans can make war on  each other for the most sacred of reasons—reasons drawn from the Scriptures of all faiths, reasons drawn from our own conceptions of the divine, of our relationships with our personal Lords and saviours. We have a positive genius for this kind of thing. Lincoln spoke about that when he spoke about the series of mass shootings that he had to address during his presidency.

This thing happened because this is America, where these things happen more often than any other place in the world. This thing happened because who we are comes up so very short of who we believe ourselves to be.

From: Esquire US.