As the casualty numbers in Orlando come in (now at 49 victims confirmed dead and 54 wounded) people are struggling to make sense of the senseless, to find in the killer’s actions and words some clue to the why behind this massacre. Hatred of the LGBT community seems to have been a key issue, but despite efforts by some to attribute last weekend’s tragedy to a single factor, such as so-called “radical Islam,” his motivations may never be clear. Just before the attacks the gunman, Omar Mateen, pledged his allegiance to the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS), and media affiliated with ISIS claimed credit for the attack. His ex-wife said that he beat her repeatedly when they were married, and a co-worker reported that Mateen had harassed and stalked him.One fact that is clear, however, is that the Pulse nightclub shooting fits into a pattern of mass shootings, which are now heartbreakingly common in the United States: this was the 176th incident where four or more people have been shot in a single shooting spree this year alone.
And the worst mass-shootings in recent years are connected by the weaponry used. The primary firearm used was a Sig Sauer MCX, a rifle similar in appearance to the AR-15 that was used in Aurora, Newtown, and San Bernardino. The AR-15’s semiautomatic version is known for its precision and ability to fire many rounds quickly, and can be bought legally in the US. Families of children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012 (where 20 children and six adults died) have sued manufacturers of the AR-15, arguing that the rifle is a military weapon and should not be sold to civilians.
Beyond the weaponry, however, is another common thread: legislative inaction. Regardless of death toll, of the age and identity of victims, and of the motivations and personal history of the shooter(s), the legislators who have the power to regulate access to weaponry have done nothing. In fact, they have even banned the government from funding studies on gun violence that could suggest effective policies. Dismissing mass shootings as a price to pay for living in the United States is a betrayal of all who live there. The US government has a responsibility to protect its population from gun violence. While some states are trying to address firearms, the existing patchwork of laws and loopholes does not work. The federal government needs to engage and make sense of the senseless.
(Antonio M. Ginatta is the advocacy director for the US Program at Human Rights Watch. Prior to joining Human Rights Watch, he served as executive policy advisor for government operations and homeland security for Governor Chris Gregoire in Washington State, and as a legal advisor for the Washington Army National Guard.) – HRW