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Statement on Orlando Shootings

Along with tens of millions of Americans in every corner of our nation, I offer my profound sympathy and heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the forty-nine beautiful young people of Orlando whose lives were stolen Sunday morning.

We may never know what kind of hatred, what kind of sickness moves an individual so vehemently, with such unchecked racism and homophobia to commit mass murder allegedly in the name of one or more terrorist causes.

My mind constantly returns to those who lost their lives at the Pulse, along with the fifty-three who were wounded, in an attempt to understand how one individual came to have the power to wreak such destruction and havoc.  These innocent souls now join those lost at Blacksburg, Virginia, Newtown, Connecticut, Killeen, Texas, San Ysidro, California, San Bernardino, California, Edmond, Oklahoma, Fort Hood, Texas, Binghamton, New York and Aurora, Colorado as victims of mass slaughter with the tools of modern warfare.  So far, 2016 has seen 136 mass shootings according to the Gun Violence Archive.  Much like the June 2015 shooting of nine men and women who were murdered while engaged in prayer in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina  and the murderer who later confessed that he committed the shooting in hopes of igniting a race war the Orlando murderer attempted to justify his bigotry and hate by wrapping himself in some sort of fascistic cause which, in the light of day, only exposed him as the vicious, isolated loner he actually was.
 
How can we countenance the continued ownership, availability and use of semi-automatic weapons such as the AR-15?  What legitimate purpose can they serve?  What legitimate need do they fulfill? How many more must die before we rise up as a nation and reinstate the ban on such weapons in civilian life?  Would that have any impact?  Would such a ban save lives?  We don’t have to guess.  We can look to the experience of Australia, a nation with some significant parallels to the United States.  

In 1996, after the worst mass shooting in Australian history then Prime Minister, John Howard, led the battle for what was to become the National Firearms Agreement which banned certain semi-automatic and self-loading rifles and shotguns and required all firearm licence applicant to show a genuine reason for owning a gun – which couldn’t include self-defense.  The country instituted a mandatory, federally financed gun buyback program which led to the repurchase of 700,000 guns which halved the number of gun owning households and reduced the number of guns in circulation by about 20%.  The firearm homicide rate fell by 59% and the firearm suicide rate fell by 65% – without increases in other types of deaths.  Australia hasn’t had another mass shooting on that scale since.

One final even more critical note: addressing the deadly end result of racism, homophobia and male chauvinism.  The self-serving notion that any individual or group is superior to another has plagued America from our earliest days as a nation.  Slavery was a cancer on our people.  Justified by the crudest, cruelest, most vicious ideology which proclaimed persons of African or Native American ancestry to be inferior and sub-human,  and persons of European ancestry to be their “natural masters” it was the basis of a vicious system of social oppression and economic exploitation.  No people will endure such oppression and exploitation forever.  And, indeed, it inevitably led to deadliest most divisive war in our nation’s history: the Civil War.  204,070 died in battle or from injury in battle and 414,152 died from disease or “accident” a total of 618,222 souls.

Yet here we have these evils lingering in our society today.  They continue to express themselves in so many guises.  What kind of deranged mind leads itself to believe itself able to pass life or death judgement on other individuals or groups?  What kind of mind, raised in the USA places itself above our constitutional declarations of equality of all?  What kind of mind finds the basis to declare other individuals or groups defective or inferior?  What kind of mind declares other individuals unworthy or unqualified to share the protections of our constitution?  What kind of mind asserts they are above judgement by a member of another group?  What kind of mind envisions a world where one people are superior to another people and believes that such notions can lead to anything other than enduring conflict, death and destruction.

The answer, as the poet has written, my friends, is blowing in the wind.

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