Last weekend, 49 people enjoying their Saturday night at gay nightclub Pulse, were murdered by 29 year-old, US born, Omar Mateen. Mateen entered the club armed with an assault-style rifle and a pistol. He was killed by police following a three hour stand off in the club. A further 53 people were injured.
Once again, the world is left wondering ‘why?’ Why do people do this? Why does this happen? Why was a man, who had been investigated twice by the FBI for terrorism links, allowed to purchase weapons capable of taking 49 lives in less than three hours? Why is horrific gun violence so common in America? And why don’t they do something to stop it?
Conflicting reports have emerged about Mateen’s motivations. Some sources have said he was homophobic, motivated by anger after he saw two men kissing but others say that he was a Pulse regular, and had used multiple gay dating apps including Grindr and Jack’d to message other men. Many reports say he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State during a 911 call shortly before the attack, during which he also mentioned the 2013 Boston Bombings.
The Pulse nightclub massacre is now the deadliest in US history, ahead of the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech which killed 33 people. But it’s not just the severity of these incidents that is worrying, it’s the regularity. This year alone there have been 139 mass shootings in America, roughly six every week. With a mass shooting being one that kills or injures four or more people. So far this year, more than 6,000 people have died in the United States as a result of gun violence, including 1,500 people under the age of 18. That’s more than 35 killed by a gun each day.
There are over 300 million legally owned guns in the United States, one for every man, woman and child. In Australia there are 21 guns for every 100 people and the global average is one gun for every ten people. Incidentally, there are more guns in Australia now than before the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, but the chance of being killed by a gun in Australia remains at half what it was before then; approximately 1 per 100,000. In the United States this is closer to 10 people killed for every 100,000 people and 26 people injured per 100,000.
Shooting events, such as the one in Orlando, always ignite debate over gun control in the United States with many saying that tougher regulations are needed to stop mass shootings from occurring in the future and others reinforcing their ‘constitutional right to keep and bear arms.’ Australia is often mentioned as a model for successful gun control implementation and America once again questions why gun violence is so common, in such a developed country.
Recently debate has focused on whether a lapsed assault weapons ban should be reinstated. The 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban applied to 118 different models and variations of guns, including the assault-style rifle used by Mateen, as well as the weapons used in six of the previous seven mass shootings in America. But the ban expired in 2004 and Congress opted not to renew it.
Although Mateen’s links with terrorist organisations have not yet been confirmed, the United States’ lax gun control laws are something that terrorist organisations are known to take advantage of, with American-born, Al-Qaeda spokesperson Adam Gadahn saying, “America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention centre and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”
It seemed that earlier this year serious reform would begin, with President Obama enacting an Executive Order to force stricter controls on businesses selling firearms and more comprehensive background checks for customers. But as mentioned, Mateen passed all the background checks required to legally purchase and own the two guns he had with him; as a licensed security guard he also had a permit to carry concealed weapons. Mateen had been investigated twice by the FBI for links to terrorism but even this did not prevent him from purchasing the guns. Ironically, in America, after mass shooting events the number of background checks conducted for potential gun owners increases dramatically.
President Obama has stated that his failure to pass ‘common sense gun safety laws’ has been the greatest frustration of his presidency. His statement following last week’s massacre in Orlando, was his fiftieth time addressing the country following a mass shooting. Each incident only builds more pressure and it feels that change has to happen soon. Public opinion follows this with a roughly even split on whether more gun control is needed or whether it is more important to maintain the current rights.
It’s evident that more drastic action is required to prevent guns from getting into the hands of dangerous, violent people but until then, it seems only a matter of time before the next incident.
Featured image by Jason Paris under CC License 2.0