The End of the United States?

“If we do not get tough and smart real fast, we are not going to have a country any more,” said Donald Trump after the massacre in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning, and The Donald never exaggerates. The United States is a very fragile entity, only two-and-a-bit centuries old. One more attack like Orlando – fifty dead and fifty-three wounded – and it’s finished.

No? That’s not what Trump meant? Then how many Orlandos would it take to destroy the United States? One a month?

That wouldn’t really do it either, because on average around two hundred Americans are killed and wounded in mass shootings every month. It’s been going on for many years, and the United States is still there.

Last year 374 mass shootings – defined as a shooting that kills or wounds four or more people – killed 475 Americans and wounded 1,870. The media go into a feeding frenzy whenever the number killed in a single incident reaches a dozen or so, but it doesn’t last long.

The politicians offer their “thoughts and prayers for the victims and their loved ones,” and everybody carries on as before. After all, two hundred killed and wounded a month in mass shootings isn’t all that big a number in a population of 325 million, and anyway trying to bring in gun control is not worth the political effort. It has been tried repeatedly, and it just doesn’t work.

Indeed, the National Rifle Association may be right in insisting that the problem is not guns but Americans. (Their slogan is actually “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people”, but we all know which people they are talking about.)

Firearms are also widely available in Canada, but the Canadian gun murder rate is eight times lower. Even in countries where assault weapons are widely available (like Switzerland and Israel, where military reservists keep their weapons at home), the firearms-related death rate is less than a third of the American rate, and mass shooting are very rare.

“Violence is as American as cherry pie,” as H. Rap Brown once put it, and on the whole Americans have just decided to live with it. That’s not an entirely unreasonable decision, because changing a whole culture is hard, slow, uncertain work, and 13,286 gun deaths per year (including massacres, one-on-one killings, suicides and accidents) is only one in every 25,000 Americans.

But what about terrorism? That’s a real threat, isn’t it? The aforesaid Donald Trump even tweeted that President Obama should resign immediately in disgrace if he didn’t say the words “radical Islamic terrorism” out loud. But it’s not even clear yet if that’s what the Orlando horror was really about.

It’s true that the Orlando shooter, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, was born in New York to Afghan immigrant parents who raised him as a Muslim, but his ex-wife says that he wasn’t very interested in Islam. Maybe he changed after she left (he used to beat her up a lot), but his father says that the trigger for his killing spree was seeing two gay men kissing in public in Miami.

On the other hand, there are reports that he called 911 (the emergency services) to declare his allegiance to Islamic State just before he started shooting, and some witnesses say he shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is great!) as he was killing people.

Even if true, this doesn’t mean that Mateen was acting on Islamic State’s orders. IS websites do NOT encourage potential supporters to phone head office for instructions before going out to commit terrorist acts. Just go and do it, that’s all.

But it may also be that Mateen was acting out of a so-called “gay panic” – an extreme reaction to displays of gay affection, generally because the person is desperately suppressing such desires in himself. In that case, the whole “Islamic” thing would have been just a cover for his real motive, which he wanted to conceal.

We’ll know more later, but we may never know his motives for certain. It doesn’t much matter: people commit massacres for all sorts of bizarre reasons, and it makes no difference to the victims which particular one is driving them.

It shouldn’t make much difference to the public or the politicians either, because Mateen is just one more mass murderer among hundreds, very few of whom are Muslims. Donald Trump (and some other people) will be pushing the “terrorism” button as hard as they can, in the hope that they can fool people into backing extreme solutions to what is really a very small problem, but that is just cynical self-interest.

So what should happen? Nothing much, really. The US will go on living with the occasional mass murder because the culture is too hard to change. And terrorism – whether this particular event was terrorism or not – will continue to be one of the (relatively minor) costs of doing business in the 21st century.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 7 and 13. (“Firearms…rare”; and “But it…conceal”)