Last Sunday saw the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history when a gunman opened fire inside of a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The attack occurred at 02:00 AM local time, in an event that tragically killed at least 49 people and injured dozens more. The gunman, identified as 29-year-old Omar Mateen, was shot dead by police after barricading himself in a bathroom and taking several people hostage.
Pulse is one of the largest nightclubs in Orlando, and an estimated 300 people were inside the venue at the time of the attack. The gunman was armed with an AR-15-type assault rifle and a handgun. Several gun battles ensued between Mateen and the police, both inside and from the entrance of the nightclub. The BBC reports that Mateen told the police he had explosives and had been seen visiting the venue several times over the last three years, which suggests that the gunman pre-empted the attack.
The police decided to storm the building at about 05:00 AM local time, three hours after the start of the attack. Explosives were detonated in the building’s rear wall, which allowed for dozens of people who had taken shelter in another bathroom to escape, and for Mateen to be shot dead by police.
Omar Mateen is from Fort Pierce, a city two hours south of Orlando, in St Lucie County. The BBC reports that he has been repeatedly interviewed over the past three years concerning claims regarding his ties to the Islamic State group (IS) and his connection to Moner Mohammed Abu-Salha, an American who is known to have carried out a suicide bombing in Syria. U.S. President Barack Obama stated that there is no evidence of any connection between the gunman and the Islamic State, despite the group claiming that it was behind the attack.
The political responses to this tragedy are indicative of the polarity of attitudes towards gun control in the United States. The Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, called for the resignation of the current president for not using the words ‘Islamic terrorism’ in response to the recent attacks. This blatant Islamophobia both does nothing to solve the current issue of a direct and malicious attack on LGBTQIA+ people, and perpetuates a culture of terror and the use of problematic and dangerous anti-Muslim rhetoric.
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ensures the right of people to keep and bear arms but, does nothing to help or support the rights of both Muslim and LGBTQIA+ people to live freely, openly and without fear. Florida Senator Marco Rubio stated that gun controls would not have prevented the tragedy on the grounds as it was a ‘lone-wolf’ attack. However, the efficacy of gun control may be illustrated by examining the 1996 enactment of gun control measures in Australia following a massacre in Port Arthur, Tasmania. There has not been a mass shooting since in Australia, and gun violence has had a reported decrease of at least 50%. This is indicative of an archaic and problematic way of thinking that is ingrained within both the political and social spheres of society in the United States.
Services have been held in Orlando and around the world for the victims of the attacks, in a global commemoration and sadness for the loss of innocent lives. Imam Muhammed Musri, of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, condemns the attack as an act of terror and criticizes those who act under the guise of religion to spread an ideology of hate and death. This atrocious event has raised both national and global concerns on the safety of LGBTQIA+ people, and of the issues of discrimination and gun control in America.
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