If I wrote about every mass shooting in gun-sick America, I wouldn’t have time for anything else. But the bloodbath at a gay nightclub in Florida this weekend, now the deadliest in U.S. history, has a grim power to break through the scar tissue of our indifference.
The NRA and right-wing Christianity in this country are locked in a vampiric embrace, each feeding on the other. There’s no better proof of that than lawmakers who sold their souls for NRA blood money trying to cloak their cowardice and callousness in religion by urging yet more useless prayers. House Republicans called for a moment of silence and nothing else, leading Democrats to erupt in shouting and protest.
If there’s any silver lining at all to this, it’s that it drives home the total worthlessness of prayer. By now, it should be obvious to everyone that the hollow recitation of “thoughts and prayers” after every mass killing spree does nothing to stop the next one. Those pious words are as vacant as an echo in an empty room. By making this contrast so clear, we can hope, more people will come to the realization that prayer is useless, and that we need to act if we want to stop preventable tragedy.
But even more than their maddening inaction, there’s a detestable hypocrisy in prominent Republicans lining up to condemn the massacre when they’ve spent so long nurturing anti-gay prejudice. Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, tweeted (and then deleted) a Bible verse that read, “God cannot be mocked: a man reaps what he sows”. Three Republican presidential candidates, including Ted Cruz, have appeared on stage with Kevin Swanson, an evangelical Christian who thinks gay people should be put to death. And then there’s Marco Rubio:
Marco Rubio, who opposes marriage equality, adoption equality, and LGBT civil rights laws, is on CNN condemning Muslim bigotry against gays.
— Angus Johnston (@studentactivism) June 12, 2016
These politicians and preachers may not have called for violence themselves, but they’ve spent years cultivating the fear that LGBT people are a dangerous, subhuman Other, an existential threat to all we hold dear. They’ve called the gay-rights movement “rainbow jihadists“, “the eclipse of God“, said it was worse than terrorism, the “end of democracy in America“, elevated their opposition to a cause superseding all others. When you indulge in apocalyptic rhetoric like this, you forfeit the right to be shocked when people respond accordingly. (That’s not even to mention the Christians who were openly celebrating.)
Granted, the shooter was Muslim, not Christian, but he was bathed in this same toxic brew. His father, while disclaiming the violence, also said that “God will punish those involved in homosexuality“. Homophobic sentiment is pervasive in Islam just as it is in Christianity. Combined with evidence that the killer was himself gay, a grim narrative emerges of a self-loathing closet case driven to violence by the unbearable contradiction of his upbringing. His last-minute profession of allegiance to ISIS seems less like a root cause than a convenient ideological structure to pour his rage into.
But whatever the causes, we come back to the problem that anyone can walk into a gun store and buy a military-grade weapon designed for killing people quickly and efficiently. No other means of mayhem comes close. You can’t do nearly as much harm with a knife, and cooking up a bomb in your kitchen is a dangerous and difficult task, beyond most people’s reach. Cheap, readily available guns make it easy to commit murder. They have no other purpose.
If it were indeed true that ISIS sleeper agents were secretly planning violent rampages within our borders, we’d have only two courses of action. One would be to do as Donald Trump and other Republicans have suggested, and embark on a pogrom against Muslims: sweeping them up, deporting legal residents, banning them from practicing their religion, imprisoning them without charge – brutally trampling the rights of millions of people, all for the sake of catching a few violent fanatics in the dragnet.
Or, we could ban weapons of mass killing. As a bonus, this also stops other terrorists who aren’t ISIS, like the white Christian terrorists who attack Planned Parenthoods and murder doctors (and don’t forget the white guy with a cache of explosives who was arrested en route to the L.A. Pride festival). If I had the choice, I’d rather clamp down on the weapons than the people.