There was a time when mass shootings in the United States were infrequent enough that our nation's collective shock and grief in their wake felt like they might be powerful enough to transcend socioeconomic divisions and unite to address a shared, if tragic, reality. On Sunday morning, after the news of the hateful and unconscionable attack on the gay nightclub Pulse spread throughout the world, and it was clear we were suffering the worst terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11, we again felt that now all-too-common need to mourn and huddle. But the unity in the aftermath was fleeting.
Now, look, politics are a reflection of our culture, so of course, tragedies like this will be politicized, and become Rorschach blots for people with very different ideas about the world to project their own biases, fears, and agendas. But in the age of social media, and in this most uncommon of election cycles, the speed with which we saw the Orlando massacre politicized, and the tenacity with which we've seen all sides fall back to their rhetorical battle stations and dig in their heels over the key issues implicated herein, has been startling. Now that we've had a moment to breathe, and to grieve, here's an overview of those issues, and how it's all falling out between Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, the President of the United States and our nation's two major political parties. But before we go further, let's pause to absorb the images of our gay brothers and sisters who were slain in this senseless, murderous rampage. Let's let these images, and our looks to them with love, eclipse the hateful visage of the one who perpetrated the crime.
TERRORISM, AND THE SEMANTICAL BATTLE OVER "RADICAL ISLAM"
It didn't take long (9:43 a.m. Sunday morning, to be precise) before Donald Trump took to Twitter to tell the world that he "appreciat(ed) the congrats on being right about radical Islamic terrorism" and then asking if President Obama is going to "finally mention the words radical Islamic terrorism?" setting into motion the latest chapter in an ongoing saga over the way we talk about death cults like ISIS and Al Qaeda: Should they be called "radical Islam" (as Trump and many Republican cohorts maintain), or not (as President Obama insists)? Does it matter? It’s a sticking point for Trump, who has taken the events in Orlando—where the shooter professed allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in connection with his suicidal terroristic attack—as an opportunity to blow the whistle. President Obama responded with a live televised response, in which he questioned whether using such language would have any positive or constructive effect, saying that these words possessed no magic to change the U.S.'s approach or ability to handle the problem, and that they would instead only help these terrorist groups who pervert, then use, the banner of Islam as a recruitment tool. He also reiterated that his not using these words had not hampered his ability to take out terrorist leaders like Osama bin Ladin and combat ISIS on the ground in Syria, and that using terms like "radical islam" plays into the terrorists' hands while alienating the huge global population of Muslims who don't deserve to be viewed suspiciously, and would be our most important allies in the fight against terror and future radicalization. For Trump, President Obama's resistance to using the term is indicative of something perhaps more sinister, and that "there's something going on, it's inconceivable," which many have viewed as Trump making a conspiratorial allegation against Obama.
While this issue plays on in the media, it's worth noting that Hillary Clinton has, herself, used the term "radical Islam" before. Which is to say: Is Donald Trump running against Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama? Because Obama isn't running for president. Though, with Trump's incessant attacks on the President, and the President's response, it looks like Obama will campaign as if it was his name on the ballot this fall. And in a sense, with the personal animosity between these two compounding Obama's disagreement on most every policy Trump espouses, Obama's legacy is on the line, as is his impression of the America's international standing. The fall just got lit.
GUN CONTROL, ASSAULT RIFLES, AND THE TERROR WATCH LIST
The gunman in the Orlando shooting, who will go unnamed here in order to withhold the glory and attention shooters like him so desperately crave, used an assault rifle called the AR-15. It's a machine that is engineered for ease of handling and firing multiple rounds, far more than any hunter or sportsman could reasonably need. It's a machine that exists with military criteria in mind. It's a machine whose proliferation has begged gun control activists to ask: Why is this machine so readily available to civilians, and in particular why was it so easily available to a person who was twice questioned by the FBI for his possibly dangerous and terroristic claims and who was on the official Terror Watch List, as was the Orlando shooter? Gun rights activists respond by invoking the 2nd Amendment and citing that any legislation that's been proposed to treat this issue is riddled with overreaching that would infringe on the general citizenry's right to bear firearms. They also say that such legislation wouldn't have prevented this shooting, as the Orlando killer was no longer on the Terror Watch list at the time of his purchase (12 days before the shooting).
In other words, the Orlando shooting has set off a new round of the debate over gun rights and gun control, and it's getting heated. On the House floor the other day, Democrats chanted "Where's the bill?!" while Speaker Paul Ryan tried to adjourn the session. Later, the Democrats staged a 15-hour filibuster to force a Senate vote on two pieces of gun control legislation (one to ban gun sales to all those who have appeared on a Terror Watch list, and another to expand background checks). Meanwhile, Trump suggested there would have been less carnage at Pulse had other clubgoers been armed as well, claiming he will "save the 2nd Amendment." That said, he also plans to meet with the National Rifle Association—the powerful and monied interest which has an outsized presence and influence on gun legislation in Congress—to discuss the possibly of restricting gun sales to people on the Terror Watch List, which has confused some of his hardline supporters of an unfettered 2nd Amendment. The President and Hillary Clinton gave speeches that sounded rather coordinated and pressed upon the importance of stricter gun control laws, highlighting the need to keep these sorts of firearms out of the hands of terrorists and those who would commit violence. In her address, Mrs. Clinton called for an assault weapon ban, writ large. The Republicans stand vehemently against this position, and it's a controversial one even for Democrats from conservative areas where gun culture is more prevalent. Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill are scrambling to formulate their legislative response to these events, but are also mindful of not seeming like they are exploiting this event for political gain.
Will this be the formative moment that change the trajectory of gun laws in America? More on this from REVOLT 2 Vote, coming soon.
IMMIGRATION, ISLAM, AND THE CHILDREN OF IMMIGRANTS
Let's be clear: The Orlando shooter was born in Queens. He was an American citizen by birth. There was no exploited loophole of immigration that led to this shooting. Per the president and nearly all observers and commentators, this was a case of homegrown terrorism, with a radicalized citizen arming himself without coordination or direction from any larger terrorism network, and then professing allegiance to one (namely ISIS). These facts have not stopped Donald Trump from using the event as a jumping off point for another round of calls on stricter immigration policy, though. In his post-shooting address, Trump claimed that "the only reason the killer was in America in the first place was because we allowed his family to come here." Now, these past few weeks had seen Trump soften his earlier calls to ban all Muslim people from entering the United States, but after Orlando, he doubled down on his proposed ban and insisted that he would prohibit all Muslims from entering these shorts until "we as a nation are in a position to properly and perfectly screen those people coming into our country" because at the moment we are "importing radical Islamic terrorism into the west through a failed immigration system." Trump has not clearly spoken about the status of Muslims presently living in the country, the first generation citizens like the Orlando shooter was, and like so many others are.
GAY CIVIL RIGHTS
The fundamental right deprived of those murdered at Pulse was the right to live. That's a human right, a civil right, and it would apply to anyone, naturally. But we list here to say that the gay culture was intentionally and ideologically targeted and victimized by this terrorist. Since January of 2015, Florida has recognized gay marriage, and so the married partners of those hospitalized that night had basic rights afforded to all married couples, like hospital visitation rights and the like. Had this tragedy happened just two years ago, that would not be the case. This is, in a tragic context, and illustration of some modicum of progress for the gay rights movement. However, just three days after the shooting, the leaders of the Republican party blocked a vote in the House of Representatives for a bill "that would ensure federal contractors can’t discriminate against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identification." This is, during a tragic week, an illustration that the road to equality is a long one.
The Orlando shooting very naturally touches on certain issues, ripe for political debate, with terrorism and gun control chief amongst them. Immigration was not an obvious issue, but this is not an obvious election season. Over the next few weeks, we will be looking at these issues with a new eye, doing a deeper dive, and finding new ways to discuss them. On next week's @FactsOnly, we will tackle Gun Control, as the first part of a multi-platform series to analyze the most important issues of this election season. Until then.
Facts Only is a weekly political column by REVOLT Chief Political Correspondent Amrit Singh. For more, you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram, and follow @FactsOnly on Twitter and Instagram, too.