The latest assault on our civilized senses came in the form of a deranged shooter at a gay night club in Orlando. By his own admission, in conversations with police, he was inspired by ISIS. His inspiration is neither important or germane. He could have simply gotten up on the wrong side of the bed that morning. We can’t understand the workings of a brain that no longer functions rationally.
Just the day before, also in Orlando, three miles away, another mind gone bad took the life of a young singer, Christina Grimmie. In both cases, the shooters were heavily armed, and if not for the singer’s brother, Marcus, who tackled the assailant, more lives could have been lost outside the performance venue where she was signing autographs. The investigation into both horrendous events continues. However, at this time, it seems the killers had no personal knowledge of their victims. They were just strangers to be slaughtered.
These acts of terror carried out through some warped lens of radical Islam, unrequited love, homophobia or other motivation will draw on the usual dog-eared responses — from too many guns to mental health to national security. The same mantra was heard after Sandy Hook, where 26 died, including 20 children; the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting where 12 died or the shooting in a Charleston church where nine lost their lives. Frankly, the list is much longer: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Boston Marathon, San Bernardino, just to name a few more. The gun genie escaped from his bottle long ago, and we don’t have the wherewithal to even discuss ways of putting it in check, even for those with severe mental issues.
We live with the knowledge that America has more gun deaths than any Western civilized nation, and while we fear terrorists, the vast majority of the gun homicides are single-shooter crimes. According to the FBI, there were 8,124 gunshot homicides in 2014, more than 22 per day. But there is another statistic that should concern us. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about twice as many people commit suicide using a gun annually than are murdered using a gun.
Do we need to do something about preventing people with mental issues from acquiring high-velocity semi-automatic weapons? Of course. But that wouldn’t slow the suicide rate, would it? Should we have common sense requirements for those seeking to own a gun, such as training, background checks and insurance? Do we need a more robust background check system? Would the American people accept the inconvenience of a longer waiting period? There are a lot of ideas out there, but can any of them be honestly debated? For too long there has been a great chasm that many politicians and everyday Americans would rather not approach. Even after a horrendous event, we talk, we fear for a while, but do little. Because there is little we can do.
Many people have issues that can’t be tracked by security measures. The internet with its worldwide reach makes it easy for those with bent personalities to find dark organizations that fill the voids in their lives with hatred. Not being able to see attacks coming, even in this age of technology, scares us. And when we’re scared we can be irrational and accept curbs on our freedoms. We adjust our behavior. We drive instead of flying to our destinations, even though statistically, being on the highway is infinitely more dangerous than flying. We stop gathering in public places, worried that we could become targets, even though the chances of an attack remain small.
When we do that, we are not just being cautious and careful. We’re being fearful. When we pass draconian laws that allow our privacy to be invaded will it protect us or end up being abusive? And the question we should ask is: Are terrorists winning when we change how we live our lives? They want us to live in fear of them. That’s why they do what they do. They hate us because of our freedoms and prosperity. They hate us because we aren’t willing to live in caves with a mindset more akin to the 16th century.
We can’t play into their strategy and take ownership of their hate. We’re a better people than that. It is what makes us special. In the words delivered March 4, 1933, by of one of our greatest presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt, during his first inaugural address, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is ... fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
America is a different country today — 83 years after Roosevelt became president — we are divided by so many factions, some believe hopelessly. However, this remains the greatest nation on Earth, and Roosevelt’s words still ring true. If we conquer our fears, we can conquer all.