It has become common to say that we are numb to mass death by firearms in America, but the Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando on Sunday claimed a grim milestone — the worst mass shooting in American history.
Larger than Columbine, Newtown, Charleston, San Bernardino, to name others in the numbing litany. Where the combination of hate, radicalism of different stripes, and guns led to events hardly imaginable to people waking up, going to work or school, shaking heads sadly at the news. But here it is again, and at least 49 people are dead.
This time, the particular tragedy was focused on the LGBTQ community. A gay nightclub in Orlando, Pulse was founded to honor the brother of one of the owners, according to the club’s website. The brother died of AIDS in 1991, and the club was named Pulse for his “heartbeat.”
Early Sunday, Omar Mateen entered the club with a handgun and a military-style assault rifle. At first, clubgoers said, the shots were hard to distinguish from the sounds of the loud dance music. Before he was reportedly shot and killed by police, Mateen had killed and injured more than 100, murdering and terrifying individuals enjoying themselves with drinks and music on a Saturday night.
Details are still emerging about Mateen and his motives, including possible inspiration by the Islamic State. The gunman reportedly called 911 to declare allegiance to the Islamic State shortly before the attack. The Islamic State claimed him yesterday as a fighter, though it has not been proven that he was trained by the organization or inspired by them to act. Either way, the attacks appear to combine the Islamic State’s trademark hate along with another hate we are sadly familiar with here: homophobia. Mateen’s father reported that he had become angered by seeing two men kiss.
It is particularly tragic that these murders took place during Pride Month, the celebration of the LGBTQ community’s struggles and triumphs.
Pride is celebrated in June in memory of the Stonewall Riots, when gay New Yorkers and others fought back against bigotry. This should have been a truly satisfactory Pride, a full year after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, a year after a heady Pride celebration when the court ruling was brand new. This year, such a marker of acceptance would have been normal, not news: a symbol of how far America has come. Instead, it will be marred with the memory of a heinous attack.
What can be said of attacks like these?
Can we mark the incomprehensibility of the events in the numbing sameness of the rapid-fire tweets: the “thoughts and prayers” of politicians, presumably the same thoughts and prayers from last time? At least those thoughts and prayers, if insufficient, register a recognition of the solemn moment. Can we note the self-serving missive, from Donald Trump, tweeting with limited facts, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.”
Can we say, as we’ve said before, that violent radical behavior of any kind, be it motivated by religion (the ultimate oxymoron) or simple hate, has no place in modern life, in America and across the globe? And can we say that no ideology kills in a vacuum, that there is a constant here as before and it is a gun, in particular a gun used as a tool of mass destruction — and our discussions of limiting guns like these in public life are sorely ineffective.
And can we say that if this gunman was indeed targeting gay individuals, it’s a reminder of bigotry not eradicated.
NYC’s Pride celebration begins this week, and organizers say there are no plans to cancel events. The group says in a statement that “as with every Pride season, we are closely working with our partners at the NYPD and relevant city agencies to ensure the safety and well-being of our participants and attendees.”
Will we someday find ourselves in a place when such regular coordination is not the norm?