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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Dear America: Enough

I have had a couple of days to think more about what happened in Orlando this past weekend and where the conversation really needs to be going.

The past few days have been predictable. We have seen people on both sides of issues regarding Muslims, guns, LGBT rights, mental health treatment and other topics, and the overwhelming majority of them want to roll out one factor only, one size fits all, see how easy that is, and other narrow-minded approaches to what happened without understanding the big picture.

I have just one thing to say to everyone in America doing that: Enough.

Understanding the response we need to take after what happened requires us to consider all the evidence before us, not only with what happened in Orlando, but what happened in other mass shootings, and put the pieces together. While doing this, we need to keep in mind why we really have laws to begin with and what approaches have done the best job of reducing such incidents, even if they haven't eliminated them.

This requires us to turn off the 24-7 news networks who want to play every issue out as if it was the equivalent of whether or not "insert current popular athlete here" is a great player or a choker, to stop posting memes on Facebook and Twitter and to stop tossing out random comments at the bottom of an Internet article that amount to either "rah rah rah!" or "BOOOOOO!"

It requires us to use our heads, not our hearts, to examine what has happened, and consider all angles in order to determine what steps to take, while realizing those steps won't solve everything, but they may take us in the right direction.

1. It's true that the shooter was influenced by ISIS propaganda and is thus correctly called a terrorist, but we must keep in mind that one doesn't have to be influenced by ISIS propaganda to be a terrorist. The shooter at the Charleston, S.C., church was influenced by racial hatred. The shooter at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., was influence by anti-abortion rhetoric. Those shooters are, by definition, terrorists. Remember that terrorism is using violent methods to advance a political agenda. It is not specific to anyone agenda, no matter how much some pundits pretend otherwise.

More to the point, there is a difference between a person being influenced by an individual or organization and having said individual or organization actively work with that person to commit an action. Anti-abortion organizations are plenty, but none of them actively organized the shooter who went to the Planned Parenthood clinic. Racists still exist in society but there is no evidence another person directly told the Charleston shooter to go to the church.

And while it is true that ISIS is taking credit, ISIS is the type of organization whose agenda is so twisted, it will take credit for anything that it believes will advance that twisted agenda. It is a part (though not the only part) of the picture one must understand in order to combat ISIS and its agenda.

But simplifying the Orlando shooting to be nothing more than "ISIS inspired" or "a terrorist attack" misses the rest of the picture.

2. The evidence is clear that the Orlando shooter was homophobic. I use that word because it accurately describes him. He harbored either anger or fear at homosexuals, it drove him into hate and he acted upon that hate in the worst way possible.

I am glad to see that some people are making others aware about the violent behavior directed at homosexuals and transgenders, because it will help us to better understand what these people are going through. With that said, we need to remember that the shooting didn't happen solely because the shooter was a homophobe. Again, it's part of the picture, but simplifying it to only focus on homophobia misses out on the other factors that come into play.

3. The shooter may have been Muslim, but that does not mean all Muslims are bad. Muslim is like any other religion or philosophy: It can be used by anybody who wants to advance a twisted, violent agenda. Throughout history, there have been people who have used various religions, philosophies, governments, leaders and other factors to advance a horrific agenda. And they did it because they thought that factor justified everything.

In the name of my god. In the name of my country. In the name of my leader. In the name of my organization. These and similar phrases have been used to advance some good causes, but they have been used to advance bad causes, too. We must recognize that no one cause is immune to somebody who would want to advance a selfish, aggressive, violent agenda and recognize them as acting on their own accord. And while we can recognize that certain sects of a religion or philosophy have twisted agendas, that does not mean they represent the whole of that religion or philosophy.

4. It is true that the shooter showed up with an AR-15 rifle, but he had a Glock handgun as well. If we were to ban the AR-15 rifle, nothing stops the shooter from legally obtaining the handgun. There's also the matter of how we handle background checks in this country, and while some tweaks to the system may have prevented the Orlando shooter from getting guns, there's no guarantee it would have prevented others.

Among those who legally obtained their guns were the shooter at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, the shooter who killed the reporter and cameraman in Roanoke, Va., the shooter at the Washington Navy Yard, the shooter who fired on the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., and the shooter at the theater in Aurora, Colo. And that's just the start of the list.

Trying to put together a foolproof means of ensuring somebody who shouldn't own a gun, can't buy a gun, is far more complicated than including background checks on, for example, private transactions. And it's more complicated than just keeping certain firearms out of people's hands. But that brings me to the next point...

5. Those who keep banging the drums about "concealed carry" and arming all the citizenry pretend that every shooting situation is the same and don't understand the situation at the Orlando nightclub. Multiple reports said that there was an off-duty Orlando police officer who was at the club, employed to provide security. He was inside the club when he heard shot outside and went out to investigate. He exchanged fire but was unable to stop the shooter, who retreated inside the club.

Furthermore, Florida concealed carry law states you cannot conceal carry in an establishment that primarily serves alcohol. One could argue someone who provides security should be able to conceal carry, but the reason is that person is working as an employee and is not there to do what customers showing up plan to do at a nightclub, and that's consume alcohol. And as the NRA will be the first to tell you, you don't operate a gun if you are drinking alcohol.

We must remember that the shooter carried an AR-15, which is different from a handgun in terms of size and operation. I don't know all the technical stuff, but I do know enough that not all guns are exactly the same and there's no guarantee that somebody with a concealed handgun could have stopped the shooter, even if that person was outside the club.

And anyone who believes that just having an area that isn't a "gun free zone" deters shooters doesn't understand the full picture. Specifically addressing that point, Umpqua Community College was technically not a gun-free zone; students with a concealed carry permit may do so at the college. Yet a shooter still showed up and opened fire on a classroom. Exactly how did the shooter know nobody in that classroom had conceal carry?

Getting back to Orlando, nothing stops a person from concealed carry if they are going by the nightclub with no intention of going inside. What if a person with concealed carry drove by and noticed what was happening? It's even possible such a person could walk past the business. How can there be any guarantee that such a person would have stopped the shooting without mass casualties?

6. If we really want to examine what really draws somebody to engage in a shooting at these locations, it requires us to look beyond the "gun free zone" argument. Correlation does not prove causation, but more to the point, there are some key factors that must be considered when examining each of the locations where a shooter showed up.

In many cases, the shooter in question was familiar with the location, not just with gun policies, but with the layout of the location. The shooter at the religious college in Oakland, Calif., was a student there. The same applied to the shooter at the high school in Marysville, Wash., the Umpqua Community College shooter and the shooters at Columbine.

In other cases, there was a person or persons the shooter reportedly had issues with. The shooter who killed the Roanoke reporter and others on the scene. The Columbine shooters reportedly had issues against their fellow students, same with the Marysville shooter.

Still in others, their motivation was spurred by something deeper. This is certainly the case with the Orlando shooter, same with the Charleston shooter, same with the Planned Parenthood shooter, same with the Sikh temple shooter. Something about the shooter's ideology matches up with why the shooter would choose that target.

And in at least one case, the shooter likely chose his target because he would gain an advantage based on circumstances that aren't solved by introducing a person with concealed carry. That would be the Aurora theater shooting, in which the theater was dark, the shooter first tossed out a smoke grenade and he wore body armor. A person with concealed carry would have been at a disadvantage, especially if he's trying to avoid people who are fleeing.

All these points that I have brought up are not done to say that there is nothing that we can do and nobody's suggestions are going to amount to anything. They are brought up to show that there is a lot more to the Orlando shooting and other shootings than what some people make them out to be. It requires us to engage in deeper thinking, not simplistic solutions.

And with that in mind, allow me to address a few other points.

* We don't pass laws because we believe laws will eliminate an action or behavior. We pass laws because we determine that society must operate under certain parameters. Few laws have eliminated the behavior they target, but that doesn't mean those laws that don't should be removed. We may need to revisit the laws to see if they are as effective as we thought they might be, but an outright repeal isn't always the best idea.

* We think punishments are supposed to be deterrents, but they are really about holding people accountable for their actions. If punishments truly kept people from committing crimes, then how come we still have crime? We need to remember that a harsher punishment, if one is needed, isn't about deterring others; it's about ensuring that the individual is held accountable to a degree so that his punishment fits the crime committed.

* Just because something is outlined in the Constitution as a right does not mean it cannot come with certain restrictions. The First Amendment is the perfect example: freedom of speech does not allow you to make slanderous statements, freedom of religion does not allow you to engage in practices that directly impact others, and freedom of assembly does not mean you can throw rocks at other people without being subject to arrest. We can debate about what restrictions are or aren't acceptable, but that doesn't mean we get to do whatever we want and every law that puts parameters on Constitutional rights takes away said rights.

* There are absolutes but they are few in number, so absolutist laws must be few in number, too. How we determine absolutes, though, can be through trial and error. For example, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, few today would argue it should be repealed and those that do, well, the overwhelming majority of us would think they are out of line. The 13th Amendment is an absolutist law. On the other hand, we tried another absolutist law in prohibition, and there's no other way to put it: It failed. What we did learn, though, was that regulating alcohol was still possible and, while we may debate some laws about it, most of us would agree we ultimately took a better approach to it.

* Anger and fear may not drive everyone to shoot somebody, but they can drive people to commit other irrational acts if they aren't careful. If somebody gets angry and pounds his fist against the wall, he technically hasn't hurt anybody, but pounding your fist against the wall is still an irrational act. And some of our irrational acts can harm others even if they aren't illegal. The memes we post on Facebook or comments we make on the Internet may not be against the law, but they can still cause damage, especially when they are insults, dismissive or hateful. And by hateful, I mean remarks that come from any stance taken on an issue -- it matters not what stance it is. Anger and fear do not discriminate regardless of your religion or lack thereof, your ethnic background, your political stances, your sexual orientation, your favorite sports team or any other factor about you. Controlling that anger and fear will help you engage in open, honest discussion, but tossing up memes on Facebook and making irrational comments, both that are the equivalent of "those who aren't like me suck" don't control your anger and fear; they only make it worse.

* It's our failure to understand what it means to have an open, honest discussion about issues that has resulted in our failure to properly address the overwhelming majority of them. How can we even take the right steps toward reducing mass shootings if we can't even a polite discussion about them, hide behind our memes and keep our eyeballs glued to whatever 24-7 news pundit tells us what we want to hear? (I could bring up politicians and orators, but that goes without saying.) Our addiction to 24-7 news and social media has only added to our inability to have open, honest discussions. Until we figure out how to kick those addictions, limit our consumption, and open our minds more than we open our mouths, we're not going to have actual solutions, only empty rhetoric.

As far as the Orlando shooting goes, I know everyone who has sent out thoughts, prayers and sympathies to the victims has good intentions, but all those things aren't going to lead to solutions if we don't follow them with open, honest discussions. I'm not interested in zero-sum arguments either way or tossing up "ban guns" or "more guns" rhetoric to reduce mass shootings. All those things have done is prevented us from finding better ideas to address the problems, and then the next thing we know, another shooting happens.

I don't want to have to read about another mass shooting that only gets followed with our predictable roundabout squabbles about whatever issues come up. I'm tired of it. If we want to find solutions, we can't leave it at sending out sympathies. We need to have honest discussions, not the usual empty rhetoric and refusals to listen to anyone who doesn't agree with us, because all that's led us in is one direction: Nowhere.

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