At around 2 am Sunday morning, a man now identified as 29 year-old Omar Mateen burst into the popular gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida armed with an assault-style rifle and a handgun and began firing his weapons indiscriminately into the packed club. Mateen then proceeded to barricade himself inside the club, took thirty hostages, and threatened to detonate an explosive device that he had carried in with him. After a tense, three hour-long standoff, SWAT officers entered the nightclub, shot Mateen dead, and freed the hostages. At the break of dawn, 49 civilians and the gunman lay dead along with another 43 people injured, making this the single largest mass shooting in the United States as well as the deadliest act of terror on American soil since 9/11.
Though the motives of the shooter are yet to be determined, authorities have branded this attack an act of “lone wolf” domestic terrorism. Before carrying out the attack, Mateen allegedly called 911 and pledged allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In this call he also mentioned the the Tsarnaev brothers who perpetrated the Boston Marathon Bombing. Following the shooting, Mateen’s ex-wife told reporters that he was allegedly violent and mentally unstable, often beating her. Seddique Mir Mateen, his father, was quoted as saying that a potential incident at a Miami marketplace months before the attack where his son saw two men kiss triggered the event.
Though Manteen had been under FBI surveillance and had previously been interviewed by federal agents on three separate occasions, he was able to legally purchase two of the weapons he used in the attack (including the AR-15 rifle variant) in the weeks leading up to the attack.
The same day as the mass shooting in Orlando, a 20 year-old Indiana man by the name of James Wesley Howell was arrested after Santa Monica police responded to a call about a suspicious person knocking on car windows. Police searched Howell’s car and discovered three assault rifles, high capacity magazines and ammunition in his car. The authorities are currently unsure if there are any connections between the two men.
It is becoming quite evident that no amount of thoughts and prayers nor any amount of laws could prevent such a tragedy as the one that occurred in Orlando. Yet that is absolutely no reason to simply give up and continue with our clearly broken system which allows extremists and mentally unstable people to be able to purchase weapons with little to no scrutiny or safeguards. Too many innocent lives have been lost in high-profile shootings such as this, with the severity of these tragedies seemingly increasing with each one that occurs. These attacks have become the norm in American society, with the public growing increasingly numb and desensitized to this mass violence with every passing incident.
It is true that we must consider the broad combination of factors that undoubtedly come into play if we want to prevent mass shootings and terrorist attacks of this scale, but the two biggest factors that are present are two that we as a country have thoroughly discussed in the pass, but have made very little tangible progress on. I’m talking, of course, about mental health care and gun control. Every time a tragedy like this occurs, the public seemingly splits into two very polarized groups that simply argue incessantly for a while on what to blame for the event and how to prevent future attacks, only to slowly dissipate with time while failing to bring about any meaningful change. But we must take it upon ourselves to figure out what the hell is going on and what we can do to ensure that we minimize the number of events that occur, at least out of respect for the countless innocent lives that have been taken by domestic terrorist attacks. We must do more to ensure that guns only end up in the hands of law-abiding citizens rather than murderous religious extremists. We must do more to ensure that mentally ill people get the treatment they deserve. However, I have a terrible feeling that both sides of the aisle will simply exploit this tragedy to further their own political agenda and nothing will change, meaning that we at In Loco Politico will be covering a similar tragedy in a similar manner in a few months from now, if not sooner. But maybe this time will be different… at least, one could only hope.