Skip to content

The Deadliest Shooting in US History


This is not a title I would have wanted to use, but there’s no point in denying reality.

If you’re not up to speed, here’s a summary. Early Sunday morning, a man armed with an AR-15 and a handgun opened fire in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. He killed 49 people and wounded 53 more. It must be pointed out that the club targeted was Pulse, a popular gay nightclub in the area. There is still an ongoing investigation, but it’s unlikely this target was chosen at random.

That same day, a man was arrested in Los Angeles after his car was found to contain a cache of weapons and bomb materials. He was headed for that city’s gay pride parade.

The two events do not appear to be connected in any way, and it’s extremely fortunate that one of them was stopped before anyone was harmed. Nevertheless, they cast a dark shadow over the gay community in the US. This is a country where same-sex marriage is now legal, though many states are still fighting it, or taking other measures to redouble their attacks on gay people. County clerk Kim Davis gained fame (and infamy) for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Some hailed her as a hero. It is sometimes suggested that gay people have achieved full equality under the law. Even if that were true–and it’s not, so long as states and localities continue to fight back–full equality in the eyes of society clearly has a long way to go.

After a terrible event like this, politicians are quick to offer their “thoughts and prayers.” Thoughts and prayers are all they offer, however, since they will not consider meaningful gun control legislation, and many are in the pocket of the National Rifle Association. It has become farcical: some number of people are brutally gunned down for one reason or another. Maybe the shooter has a mental illness. Maybe he’s following some violent religious strain. Maybe he thinks he’s part of an all-out race war. Maybe he’s angry women won’t date him. All the motives offer us are distractions from other issues. Have we done anything to improve access to mental health treatment? Have we improved dialogue and understanding between different religions? Have we done much to dismantle institutionalized racism? Have we made much progress ending sexism and rape culture? All of these get a flat “no,” and that’s even with heart-rending mass murders to motivate people to action. It’s pointless to discuss any of these issues in the context of mass shootings because they’re purposeful distractions.

What’s the common element in mass shootings? Guns. You can’t shoot people without guns, can you? Here is where one might insert a litany of potential gun control measures, from registration, training, and background check requirements, to outright confiscations and bans. Do any of those have a chance in hell of getting enacted in the current political environment? Absolutely not. The only possibility would be a Democratic Presidential victory in the fall, as well as a Democratic majority in the Senate. The latter is possible but not terribly likely. Even if we could enact strong gun control measures tomorrow, it wouldn’t reduce the number of guns in circulation today, which is estimated at over 300 million. That’s about enough for every person in the country to have one. How do you even begin to reduce those numbers?

Modest measures to reduce gun proliferation are met with cries that the government is grabbing everyone’s weapons. Every proposal is viewed as a slippery slope: the government merely knowing who has guns (that is, registration) is claimed to be a violation of people’s rights. Anti-government activists get stirred up, as well, and people end up dead. Should we actually make progress toward substantive gun reform, it seems likely there will be a violent backlash against it. Is that a reason not to do it? I don’t know. I think there is a fundamental sickness in American culture.

That’s a theme I’ve seen woven through responses to this massacre, too: that we’re a “sick” country, a “psychotic” and “godless” one. But most Americans don’t support this. Most gun owners support at least some regulation. The sickness does not infect everyone, then, but certainly a very loud minority that happens to align with the agenda of the NRA, which is less of a sporting club and more of an outright firearms industry lobby. I tend to loathe analogies, but I’ll give you one anyway. Imagine a pharmaceutical company made an anti-allergy pill that is extremely effective at suppressing allergies. Now imagine that only certain people could have the pill, due to their particular biology. If incompatible individuals take the pill, or are even exposed to it, they have a reaction that either makes them sick or even kills them. Overdoses are easily fatal. And, for good measure, sometimes the drug inexplicably kills compatible patients for no apparent reason.

Can you imagine such a drug staying on the market, despite being very, very good at suppressing allergies for some people? Say you don’t like the use of allergies in that example, or you object to a drug analogy. Can you imagine any other product that is so thoroughly dangerous yet faces very little regulation to improve its safety? We must obtain training, licenses, and insurance to operate motor vehicles. States require vehicles to be titled and registered so it’s always known who owns and who is legally responsible for a vehicle. Many states also require cars be kept in good maintenance condition, so they don’t pollute the environment or pose a threat to others on the road. The legal use of a car also mandates safe speeds, seatbelts, airbags, and other rules and technologies. As a result of decades of incremental safety regulations, auto accident deaths have now fallen so low that they are neck-and-neck with gun deaths. Think of all the regulations over the last 30 or 40 years that have made vehicles as safe as they are now. Indeed, think of the institutional and technological mechanisms which have made flying so safe. Where have the innovations in gun safety been? Why have gun regulations actually become looser in that time?

The reason is, of course, the NRA and the gun manufacturers who back it, because their profit margins are more important than public safety.

As much as anti-government activists fear being oppressed by the feds, Orlando gives us a stark reminder of the current status quo. People who have had to create their own sanctuaries in a society that still targets them for oppression cannot even be safe in places they’ve set aside for themselves. They may still fall victim to the whims of a hateful man with a gun, whose murder spree was enabled by a culture and regulatory environment that gives paranoid fantasies of armed revolution over the basic safety of individuals, including those individuals who’ve most commonly faced bigotry and oppression.

I don’t expect any substantial reform to happen as a result of this, either, because the people who would need to change their minds for it to happen are the very people who have the least to fear from the government: white men. I can only wonder what the response would be if a gathering of straight white men was summarily massacred by a gun-toting killer. I don’t imagine there would be a renewed push for gun control, though. Instead, more “good guy with a gun” narratives would crop up and we’d fail to learn the lesson yet again.

All this means is that it’s only a matter of time before the title of this post becomes factually inaccurate, and someone with hatred and death on his mind sets a new record.