It is with horror and regret that we must announce that the death toll from today’s terrorist attack at a Orlando, Florida gay club has risen to over fifty dead, making it the deadliest mass shooting in American history.
The attack took place around 2 a.m. last night at the Pulse nightclub. 300 revelers were in the building as Omar Matteen, a United States citizen aged 29 from Port St. Lucie, FL, entered with a handgun and an AR-15 “Bushmaster” assault rifle – the very same weapon used to kill twenty six at Sandy Hook Elementary and twelve at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado – and proceeded to slaughter fifty innocents and wounded fifty-three more. Around 5 a.m, a SWAT team detonated two explosives, distracting the gunman long enough for law enforcement officers to kill him.
Little is known about the motive or whether Mateen had links to Islamic terrorist organizations. FBI Assistant Special Agent In Charge Ronald Hopper indicates that there are “suggestions that the individual might have leanings toward that [jihadist] ideology.” Social media accounts linked to Daesh (IS/ISIS/ISIL) have not claimed responsibility for the attack, though its supporters are gloating, which is to be expected.
The gunman’s father, Mir Seddique, who moved to the United States with his wife from Afghanistan in 2009, said that “we are apologizing for the whole incident. We weren’t aware of any action he is taking, we are in shock like the whole country. This had nothing to do with religion” but noted that “we were in Downtown Miami, Bayside, people were playing music,” Seddique said. “And he saw two men kissing each other in front of his wife and kid and he got very angry. They were kissing each other and touching each other and he said, ‘Look at that. In front of my son they are doing that. And they we were in the men’s bathroom and men were kissing each other.”
Gawker reports that Mateen had not one but two legal concealed carry licenses in the state of Florida, where guns are entirely unregulated – no permit needed to purchase, no registration, no licensing of the owners. There is little doubt as to where he acquired the deadly weapons used in this shooting. The FBI reports that Mateen was a “person of interest” on their terror watch list, but thanks to the NRA and irresponsibly loose gun laws, he was able to purchase an assault rifle anyway.
It was a gruesome beginning to what is already shaping up to be a blood-soaked day. Twenty people perished in a double Daeshi bombing of a Shiite shrine in Damascus; thirty more innocents have lost their lives and over a hundred were wounded in Russian airstrikes on a market in Idlib, Syria.
In times like this it is very difficult to not jump to conclusions. The American right-wing will instantly use this as an excuse to double down on a ban of Syrian refugees and to persecute Muslim-Americans, which is the absolute wrong thing to do. Alienating Muslims and making them feel unwanted and hated drives them right into the hands of jihadism. There will always be deranged people in the world, no matter their religion. What we need to do is ensure that any random person cannot simply walk into a Wal-Mart and purchase a slaughter machine with no background checks, no license, and no registration. This blood is on the hands of the NRA and the forty-one Republican Senators who voted against reforming gun laws following the massacre at Sandy Hook.
This is not true Islam, just as Timothy McVeigh was not Christianity.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.