Danielle McLaughlin: 'Why the US can't control gun ownership'
I had my first close encounter with a semi-automatic rifle this week. Under the lofty Beaux-Arts arches of Washington D.C.'s Union Station, waiting for my train back to New York, I almost walked straight into a police officer. He was carrying one of the biggest weapons I'd ever seen. He held it across his body. Its buttstock touched his right shoulder and its muzzle, black and menacing, grazed his left knee. I thought of the horror of Orlando.
Orlando: An eternally sunny city in Central Florida. A city of 100 lakes and 100 parks, about 100 kilometres due west of NASA's Cape Canaveral. Home of SeaWorld and Walt Disney World. And now, the deadliest mass shooting in modern American History.
Last Sunday, in a city where 60 million tourists a year come to play and make believe, in a gay nightclub named Pulse, 49 innocents lost their lives in the cruellest of realities. At the hands of a man with a 9mm semi-automatic pistol and a Sig Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle. He purchased both weapons legally.
At first, it appeared to be lone-wolf terrorism. The shooter, a US-born citizen named Omar Mateen, pledged allegiance to Isis during multiple 911 calls place during the siege. The location indicated a hate crime. As the week unfolded it has emerged that perhaps Mateen was closeted gay or bisexual, and this was an act of murderous self-loathing.
And as families grieve and survivors heal, divided American politicians, with the long shadow of a general election looming over them, are fighting over the root cause, and the way to stop this uniquely American brand of mass murder.
Republican standard-bearer Donald Trump doubled down on his call for a ban on Muslim immigration. In addition to being in violation of the very idea of America, a ban like this wouldn't have stopped Mateen anyway, because he was born in Queens, New York. Just like Trump was. In contrast, Hillary Clinton called for stricter gun controls. If you are on a terrorist watch list and can't board a flight in the US, she asked, how is it possible that you can buy "weapons of death" from Walmart? Surely we have lost too many lives to gun violence, and some common sense restrictions might save a few more mothers' children.
This refrain has echoed across many American mass shootings. Aurora, Colorado. Sandy Hook, Connecticut. Charleston, South Carolina. Why is the US unable to enact meaningful gun controls? The answer is two-fold. First, the Second Amendment to the constitution, which guarantees the right to "keep and bear arms". Second, a toxic mix of partisanship and money in politics. The well-funded and influential National Rifle Association has given Republicans a mandate: halt any attempt at infringing the Second Amendment right, no matter how small. That means resistance to a national database of gun owners, universal background checks, or mandatory waiting periods. Regardless of whether or not these measures might save the lives of innocents.
This weekend I'll pay my respects to the innocents of the Orlando shooting. Not in a theme park, but at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, a mecca for gay Americans and the site of the riots that started America's gay rights movement in 1969. Perhaps the Stonewall's lesson of civil disobedience and movement politics can inform the tactics of people who say "no more" to American gun violence. I live in hope.
* Expat Kiwi Danielle McLaughlin, a Manhattan lawyer and American TV political commentator, is the Sunday Star-Times' correspondent in the USA.
- Sunday Star Times