IT is easy to despair about America and guns. And that is a sentence I could have written, have written more or less, on a number of occasions in my year of blogging.
In the latest shooting, record-breaking in its awfulness, gunman Omar Mateen killed 49 people and injured 53 others, many seriously, in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. After a standoff lasting for hours, police stormed the building, killed the gunman and rescued about 30 hostages. The faces of those who died were yesterday filling the news in a now all too familiar montage of the innocent dead.
Firearms are deeply political in the US, so while the aftermath is personal on one level, it is inescapably political, too. Of all the reactions from politicians, the most brazen was from Donald Trump. Incidentally, do we have to call Trump a politician now? I guess we do, although calling him a rampant egoist, racist, and tin-for-brains misogynist is more uplifting.
Early and unconfirmed reports suggested that Mateen had affiliated himself to ISIS, while the so-called Islamic State group claimed ownership of the shootings, although this might prove to have been pure opportunism. Overnight reports suggest Mateen was a regular visitor to the gay club he eventually attacked, clouding matters more, alongside allegations from his ex-wife that he was bipolar.
At a time when nothing much was known other than that 50 people had been killed, and at time when the blood was still wet on the dancefloor, Trump blundered onto Twitter. In a pugnacious Tweet he said: “Appreciate the congrats for being right about Islamic radical terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!”
So the bodies had barely been moved, perhaps they hadn’t even been moved, and Trump was making political capital out of those deaths, spaying the Twittersphere with empty, hateful words. For a man who claims to stand against the normal ways of politics, he is quick to take advantage of a situation.
Most sensible people would be disgusted by such shameless behaviour, yet many of Trump’s supporters will have lapped this up, as they lap up all the arrant nonsense he spouts.
President Barack Obama has been powerful on speaking out against mass shootings and in calling for gun control; yet nothing has changed. On this occasion, Obama gave a short speech in which he called the Orlando attack an “act of terror and an act of hate” and said it was “a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people”.
Trump’s reaction to this was to call for Mr Obama’s resignation for his “refusal to even say the words ‘radical Islam’”. That’s because no one knows Islam had anything to do with this atrocity.
I suppose we shouldn’t expect any less from a man who has gained the Republican nomination by spouting vile rhetoric, often contradicting his own previous statements. He seems to treat the world as a sort of personal punch bag: whatever happens, he just Trump-thumps harder while shouting like the worst playground bully. He talks tough with cartoonish abandon and for some incomprehensible reason, millions of Americans love what he says. Millions of other Americans don’t and all the world can hope is that those who dislike Trump will outnumber those who fall for his idiot charms.
To anyone not from a gun-obsessed culture, it seems obvious that more guns is not the solution. Yet gun sales are said to rise after each tragic shooting, as too many Americans believe that arming yourself and shooting first is the only solution. Mateen was able to buy the most powerful assault rifle, a weapon that shouldn’t be on sale to any private individual, however sane they are.
If all the guns disappeared, no one could be shot: easy to say, if impossible to achieve. Perhaps America and guns is a gruesome puzzle that will never be unlocked. And if Barack Obama cannot do anything about it, who on earth will?
Maybe President Trump – oh God, please, no – will issue an order that all five-year-olds should be given firearms in order to protect themselves against ISIS infiltrators in the playground. A grim satirical thought. At least I hope it is.