The response to the Orlando terrorist massacre shouldn’t be about guns, gay rights or the failure of the government to protect its citizens from a lone wolf who was clearly a threat to commit an act of terrorism.
It should be about all three.
All too predictably, Americans and their political leaders retreated to the safe turf of long-held views that place blame on other segments of society. One preacher went so far as to fault the victims for their sexual orientation.
This is absolute madness. No sane person should conclude that the victims of violence are to blame or that either the motive or the means of mass killing are irrelevant to the evil committed.
No harmless tool
What constructive purpose does an AR-15 assault rifle have within the confines of civilian society? When was the last time a mass shooting was averted because one of the targets was packing a weapon of war? Even if that scenario played out, how many innocents would also die at the hands of a hero spraying bullets in a theater, nightclub or parking lot?
At the very least, can’t we all agree that the value of forcing a terrorist to stop to reload outweighs the inconvenience of a recreational user of a semi-automatic weapon having to stop firing because his or her clip only houses 10 rounds?
These guns and their clips are the means by which maniacs kill innocents by the dozens or scores, not harmless tools of weekend outdoorsmen.
The Second Amendment is the law of the land, but it doesn’t give American citizens the right to obtain weapons capable of wreaking mass carnage. It’s the very definition of civilization that we don’t terrorize our neighbors or even threaten to do so.
Donald Trump was scheduled to meet with the NRA Wednesday to ask the nation’s premier gun owners group to rethink its opposition to legislation that would prevent people on the government’s no-fly list from buying new guns. Yes, it’s an abrogation of civil liberties. But it’s one that simply isn’t as detrimental to society as the risk that potential terrorists have easy access to weapons of mass extermination.
Liberty and security
This was a savvy political move by Trump — one that could get him and congressional Republicans out of the politically toxic position that people on the no-fly list should be able to buy guns, as though they hadn’t been identified by the government as potential threats. It is something on which Trump and Hillary Clinton agree. We also need to empower law enforcement by facilitating intelligence sharing about possible foreign and homegrown threats. Our civil liberties are the hallmark of our free and democratic society, but they should not be absolute.
In the most common and easiest-to-understand example of the sensible limitation on civil liberties, shouting “fire” in a crowded theater is not a protected form of speech.
In our society, liberty and security are inexorably intertwined. Our liberties enhance our individual security against the power of the state, and the security provided by the state allows for our individual liberties. They work in tandem. Sometimes, a little bit of one should be sacrificed in the interest of the other.
Sometimes, and a little bit. Trump’s ugly rhetoric about Muslims and his even more heinous attempts to deny equal protection to our brothers and sisters of the Islamic faith are detestable and dangerous. The freedom from religious persecution is literally the bedrock of American liberty.
It is in oppressive corners of the world, where radicalism flourishes, that individuals are denied the liberty to practice their faiths, speak their minds, gather to discuss politics, and live free of persecution based on race, ethnicity, gender, physical or mental disability, and sexual orientation.
In an era in which we’ve seen so much progress in the arena of gay rights, it can be all too easy to forget that the LGBT community in America is still under attack — from those who would do physical harm to politicians who try to score points by legislating discrimination in bathrooms. We’ll learn more about the Orlando shooter, but it appears that he loathed himself for being gay. Why? The obvious answer is that in the radical perversion of Islam he practiced, it was OK to kill people for being gay. And he lived in a society in the United States where intolerance against the LGBT community is all too tolerated. On this, too, both presidential candidates agree: The LGBT community needs greater protection.
The aftermath of the Orlando shootings shouldn’t be a time for us all to retreat to the security blanket of our own political beliefs. It’s a moment for us all to stand with one another, to watch each other’s backs, to find common ground on sensible solutions to prevent future attacks. And, even more than scouting out common ground, to compromise a little bit on strongly-held beliefs so that we can move forward together.
That means gun owners groups and their representatives supporting new restrictions on the availability of weapons of war, civil libertarians giving greater power to law enforcement to keep tabs on Americans who are suspected of terrorism, and religious conservatives putting more energy into loving their gay neighbors than into condemning them. All of these groups must become allies in the fight to protect our beautiful pluralistic republic from those who would destroy it — both from without and from within.
Rigid ideology is the enemy. To combat it, we must find consensus about our values. That starts with protecting the LGBT community, Muslims and all Americans from persecution and discrimination, limiting access to weapons of war, and enhancing the government’s ability to secure both our lives and our fundamental liberties.
Roll Call columnist Jonathan Allen is co-author of the New York Times-bestselling Clinton biography “HRC” and has covered Congress, the White House and elections over the past 15 years.