Why the Orlando murders demand a political response

I went to a vigil for the victims of the Orlando massacre, and it was incredible. Facing a sea of candles, speakers talked with pride and passion about progress for LGBT rights while hate and a lack of safety still remain.

Outside of such events, it’s critical to learn about those killed. Many were Latino gay men in their twenties or thirties. One was Juan Ramon Guerrero, described by a reporter as “a homebody and student who’d recently come out to his family.” Some worked at the local theme parks, Others managed a cell phone store, were employed by a pharmacy, served in the military.

A vigil at Bangor City Hall on Monday night. Gabor Degre | BDN

A vigil at Bangor City Hall on Monday night. Gabor Degre | BDN

Lesbian Kimberly “KJ” Morris worked at “The Pulse,” where the killings took place and had moved to Orlando two months ago. As a friend, Narvell Benning, remembered, “She was just the sweetest person. I can’t think of a time when I did not see a smile on her face.” A former girlfriend said of Morris, “She was such a great person and so full of life.” And now that life and many others are gone.

Now, politics is needed to address multiple policy issues. Candidates have different positions and reveal divergent temperaments.

Among the issues are the easy availability of assault weapons, including for people on the terrorist watch list; the pervasiveness of anti-LGBT messages and opposition to LGBT rights; treatment for people who are, as the shooter’s former wife said of him, “unstable;” and effective responses to ISIS and other terrorist organizations.

Because addressing all of these components is important, it’s critical to repudiate the self-serving and counterproductive calls from the NRA to “not politicize” mass shootings. When one individual tried to blow up a plane with explosives in his shoes, this triggered a systemic response that continues to this day, affecting millions of air travelers. Yet the NRA and its legislative allies have blocked common-sense gun control.

In Newtown, Aurora and Orlando, assault weapons have ripped apart bodies and destroyed lives, families and our sense of peace. As Gen. Stanley McChrystal, leader of the Afghanistan campaign, noted after this latest massacre, those are weapons of war. Said McChrystal, “That’s what our soldiers ought to carry. I personally don’t think there’s any need for that kind of weaponry on the streets and particularly around the schools in America.”

Although some say the Second Amendment prohibits limiting who can buy guns and what they purchase, that’s contradicted by a Supreme Court decision authored by Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative. “Dangerous and unusual weapons” may be banned, wrote Scalia, and there can be limits on certain people buying weapons and where weapons can be carried, and “conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

President Obama and Hillary Clinton have called for limits on weapons and discussed additional steps at home and abroad. Both favor preventing people on the terrorist watch list from buying weapons.

As President George W. Bush did after the September 11 attacks, Clinton clearly distinguished Islam from hateful variants. Said Clinton, “we face terrorist enemies who use Islam to justify slaughtering innocent people.” But, Clinton declared, “I’m not going to demonize and demagogue and declare war on an entire religion. That’s just plain dangerous and it plays into ISIS’ hands.”

In contrast, Donald Trump responded with demagoguery and conspiracy theorizing. Trump misrepresented Clinton’s immigration plan, misstated how migrants are screened now and claimed the Orlando shooter, who was born in New York near his own birthplace, was “an Afghan.”

Trump has promoted birtherism, the ridiculous accusation that Obama was not born in the U.S. Birtherism is also associated with another lie, that the president is secretly a Muslim.

Consistent with his McCarthyite history, Trump implied that the president was somehow in a league with terrorists. Said Trump, “There’s something going on. . . [Obama] doesn’t get it or he gets it better than anybody understands.” Trump then pulled the press credentials of The Washington Post for reporting on his comments.

Our best way of memorializing those killed is to decry demagogic politics, stand against hate crimes and prevent future attacks. We should learn the victims’ names, tell their and our stories and mourn lives cut short. Standing for the victims ultimately requires a strong political response.

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Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.