The terrorist attack in Orlando, Florida at the Pulse gay night club was an atrocity. At the time I write this the death toll is up to 50 people with many more injured. The stories and descriptions at the scene are horrific. It is the worst terrorist attack on US soil since September 11, 2001. The previous US terrorist attacks being in Chattanooga, Tennessee and San Bernardino, California. I think the most harrowing description I read came from a journalist:
— Greg Bluestein (@bluestein) June 12, 2016
As with all news events, the political storm that erupted was beyond toxic. I wrote my initial thoughts yesterday while watching the news play out on TV and social media. It was disheartening. At one time in our history, we were united by tragedies. That is not true any more. The knee-jerk reactions and hot takes that were spit out of the American media machine was one big mass of word vomit. I say this because I spent a sizable portion of the day watching Twitter for updates and reports. Like I said in the other piece, I feel like I read a billion and one hot takes. It’s easy to get angry at those stories, particularly when it’s written by people clinging desperately to cognitive dissonance (pre-built conceptions of the world) instead of facing reality and facts. Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist said it best:
Political posturing somewhat similar to Conspiracy Theorizing — an attempt to avoid the obvious because it’s so frightening and overwhelming
— Mollie (@MZHemingway) June 12, 2016
*vast majority* of people off Twitter know this is a story about terrorism, media/political attempts to derail that reality notwithstanding.
— Mollie (@MZHemingway) June 12, 2016
It is that last point I am going to address today. The derailing of this even as a non-terrorism story is egregious. Like I mentioned yesterday, I watched, in real time, as pundits and journalists attempted to purposely make this event a gun control matter, no matter what the facts were said. At this stage of the investigation, there is little doubt this is a terrorist attack. Reports say that the jihadist called 911, pledged allegiance to ISIS, and talked of the Boston marathon bombings before entering the club. This is not another Sandy Hook or Newtown, this is lone wolf jihadist attack hitting a soft target in the style of San Bernardino, Paris, or Belgium. [1. I will not be using the jihadist’s name or picture to grant more publicity. I believe the news media does a great disservice by reporting such things. It helps glorify the attackers. I understand the need for facts, but not plastering his social media posts everywhere.] Inevitably the hot takes started pouring out, and as Mollie Hemingway pointed out, there was an attempt to push this event as a gun control news narrative. I’m going to deconstruct the largest myths I’ve seen from this story already.
Orlando was a terrorist attack, not a gun control news narrative
First, This is not a gun control issue. Even early on during the story, it was dishonest to begin to politicize it as one. We knew early on the investigation was centered on domestic terrorism, not a mass shooting. Yet the media has provided an unending stream of gun control advocates pushing their personal narratives. The early thing to do by commentators was to pitch the line of “we haven’t done or learned anything since Sandy Hook.” Comparing Sandy Hook, Newtown, or any other actual mass shootings to Orlando disparages victims and the reasons they died, as illustrated by my exchange with an Illinois Democratic Representative:
Deep sadness. Too many guns in too many hands & too much slaughter in Orlando Charleston, Ft Hood, Sandy Hook, Va Tech & weekly in Chicago.
— Luis V. Gutierrez (@RepGutierrez) June 12, 2016
Here's the problem: wrong comparison. Your comparison should be to France, Belgium, Israel, and San Bernardino https://t.co/zpAJNfAcwN
— Daniel Vaughan (@dvaughanesq) June 12, 2016
What happened in Orlando was a terrorist attack. A man was radicalized and swore allegiance to ISIS before killing on behalf of that ideology. Similar events have happened in France, the Paris bombings and the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the Belgium bombing, knife attacks in Israel, and the jihadist shootings in San Bernardino. The jihadist in Orlando said he was thinking of the Boston marathon attacks. All of these events draw on one specific characteristic: they are attacks by radicalized jihadis, domestic and abroad. When you conflate terrorist attacks with random mass shootings in a city, you’re dishonestly conflating causes to push a political narrative. Sandy Hook and Newtown have radically different causes than San Bernardino, Orlando, and Europe. Put another way: if you’re covering Orlando and France differently, you’re showing personal bias, not objectivity.
Terrorism falls under a different section of government powers than local mass shootings. The causes are different and so are the investigations. Pretending they are the same is dangerous and naive. Which brings me to my second point…
No one person or policy could have prevented the attacks
Second, no one, on any political spectrum, has a policy that could have prevented the Orlando terrorist attacks from happening. Not Clinton. Not Trump. Not gun control advocates. Not gun advocates. Not Liberals. Not Conservatives. Not Democrats. Not Republicans. No one could have stopped the event with commons proposals bantered by media pundits. Pretending otherwise is dangerously naive.
The FBI spoke to the terrorist three times and had been monitoring him since 2013. They cleared him as a non-threat. Hindsight is always 20/20. He obtained the guns he used legally. But here’s the thing: the gun part is the least important part of this entire discussion. What matters is HOW, WHY, WHERE, WHEN, and with WHO he was radicalized. Instead, people focus on the weapons the jihadist used:
These shootings are a regular occurrence. You don't get to be "shocked" anymore unless you take action to stop them. Ban automatic weapons.
— Seth MacFarlane (@SethMacFarlane) June 12, 2016
BBC just said the gun used in the shooting can "fire 700 rounds per minute."
— Charles C. W. Cooke (@charlescwcooke) June 12, 2016
As a person who has watched plenty of Family Guy, I know Seth is a liberal and wants a gun ban. He’s also wrong. For those who don’t know, automatic weapons are practically banned. Getting one is nearly impossible. And if one is used in a crime, you can bet that gun was illegally obtained. An automatic weapon was not used in Orlando. Seth is either ignorant or lying. The BBC, based out of the UK where guns are banned as well, is also wrong. No semi-automatic weapon will fire 700 rounds in a minute. False comments like this are shockingly common. Sean Davis of the Federalist covers other stupid comments you can encounter, I recommend reading it. Whenever I enter a debate over guns I regularly spend 75% of my time correcting people on basic knowledge. [2. I’m going to ignore the number of faux outrage posts I saw today, endlessly retweeted by national media members, attacking Senators and Representatives for taking donations from the NRA. The endless demagoguery of the NRA and gun advocates over worthless legislation is stupid.]
Here’s a general legislating rule: if you don’t understand how it works, you’re incompetent at calling for a ban.
Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don't want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 12, 2016
What has happened in Orlando is just the beginning. Our leadership is weak and ineffective. I called it and asked for the ban. Must be tough
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 12, 2016
Speaking of incompetent people calling for bans, enter Donald Trump. He infamously called for the ban on Muslims entering the country and there have been references to rounding up all the illegals and shipping them out. Here’s an inconvenient fact for Trump: the terrorist in Orlando was a natural born US citizen. No ban would have removed him from the country. The “ban” or “religious test” for refugees would have done nothing to stop this event. Pretending otherwise is a fatal conceit. Trump was never right. He can correctly name the enemy, but he can’t list off any way to stop them.
I can keep going down an example list, but I hope you understand the overarching theme here: politicians, pundits, and media are overpromising on their capabilities to stop events like Orlando. They can’t stop them. We should stop listening to these promises.
The reality of our situation is this: Soft targets, like movie theaters and nightclubs, are hard to protect from love wolf terrorist attacks. Right now world governments are bent on preventing attacks on hard targets. Our goal is to prevent another 9/11. We protect places like military bases, federal and state office buildings, and points of interest in major cities. Stopping localized terrorism against soft targets is hard. Pretending your preferred ban protects soft targets is dangerously naive and dishonest.
Hard cases made bad law – You can’t ban people on terrorist watch list from purchasing gun
Third, there is a saying among attorneys: hard cases make bad law. A more direct version of that saying: dead babies make bad law. [3. For an example not related to terrorism or guns, see Reason.com’s post here.] The point is this: it is very difficult to make good law when you’re dealing with a difficult or emotional case. When dealing with a difficult court case, it is very likely bad law will be enacted. The same is true for legislating. Some of the more onerous laws passed have occurred during a highly emotional debate. Another example popped up today: preventing people on the terrorist watch list from purchasing guns.
For the record: Every GOP senator but one is fine with selling assault rifles to people on terror watch lists. https://t.co/2i9kgmcNca
— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) June 12, 2016
Or, put another way, every GOP senator but one will uphold the Fifth Amendment. Better question: “who won’t?” https://t.co/BsFkFrPzhH
— Charles C. W. Cooke (@charlescwcooke) June 12, 2016
Anyone can be on the terrorist watch list. For any reason. Prior to 9/11, there were a grand total of 16 people on this list. Now? Depending on the estimates, that number is between 700,000 to 1.5 million. [4. Note: I’m quoting ThinkProgress on this, a liberal site that agrees with me: this proposal is bad. Since Orlando, you could find ThinkProgress editors calling for this exact proposal. Proving my point on hard cases making bad law. People lose their minds when scared of an event.] You can be placed on that list for whatever reason. But, here is the key, the majority of the people on that list are not terrorists nor have they done anything wrong. They’ve never been charged, indicted, or imprisoned by the US government. If you deny guns to these people, you’re denying them a constitutional right without due process of law.
I’ll unpack the legalize a bit: What this means is that you’re denying a person their rights without ever charging or notifying them of the reason they are being denied their rights. If you deny the right to bear arms to a person on the terrorist watch list, you’re denying it to a person who has never been tried and sent through the court system. That person has been denied due process. This is unconstitutional and wrong.
An example may help: If you are convicted of a felony, you lose the right to vote. Voting is considered a fundamental individual right. It can only be denied after a person has had due process, that is: charged, tried, and convicted. What is being proposed by people regarding the terrorist watch list is the following: if the government is watching you out of concern you may break the law, the government can then deny you the right to vote. The rule of law underling the terrorist watch list ban is this: The government can deny your rights for any reason they deem necessary without informing you, charging you, or convicting you of any crime. That is unconstitutional.
The Democratic Party calling for a ban is an excellent example of using the dead bodies to enact bad law. Trump’s ban on Muslims is another example. This impulse should always be resisted. It’s not about the NRA, guns, or Muslims, it’s about upholding the protections of the Constitution.
Thoughts and Prayers are never enough – but they’re still needed
Finally, it’s become trendy of late, whenever a national tragedy occurs for people to say: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims…” Inevitably, backlash occurs from people saying the thoughts and prayers are useless in major tragedies. It always seems that way at the time. And, I admit, the phrase “thoughts and prayers” does seem hollow and inadequate in the face of death. However, mockery is not the right answer. As a nation and community we need to unify in these moments, not divide. Snark will not unify us. I know I’m as guilty as anyone on this point.
People who take this phrase seriously act, they don’t remain keyboard warriors on social media. Fred Rogers, of Mister Rogers Neighborhood, had a famous quote in this regard:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.
The helpers are those who put feet to their thoughts and prayers. They act. You can find that in Orlando.
After Orlando Shooting People Show Up By the Thousands to Donate Blood https://t.co/6AoXDnJayg
— Independent Journal (@INJO) June 12, 2016
One of the great needs after the shooting was blood donations. People donated. By the thousands. Lines around the block for centers. Blood donation centers made calls for donations of snacks and treats because they were running out. I’ve personally seen social media posts from friends who were turned away from donating because the centers had no more space for the day (though blood donation centers note: continue to donate later this week when more space is available). These are the helpers. These are the people providing meaning and depth to their thoughts and prayers. These people give hope.
Thoughts and prayers matter if they have meaning and depth. They can unite us. Too often these words are thrown out as hollow PR-talk for generic condolences. But when used correctly, they can provide a powerful unifying effect. We need that unification now. We need it for the victim’s families, the first responders, the Orlando community, and the nation.
I end this piece with poignant words from Nabeel Qureshi:
Orlando marks the beginning of a new phase in our nation’s history: The worst mass-shooting on American soil is now an Islamist terror attack. Our country has to respond, and it will respond. I pray that those of you who have taken the time to read this will be a voice for responding to this tragedy with truth and love.