Despite social media jabber, the 49 dead at Orlando's Pulse nightclub weren't killed by their sexual orientation, or by disapproval of the same, or by the collective adherents of Islam, or by the National Rifle Association. They all died in an act of terrorism committed by one evil man, named Oscar Mateen, and his accomplices, if any.
Nor were Mateen's victims directly killed by gun control, though their ranks were certainly swelled by restrictions that forbade most patrons of the nightclub from carrying the means of self-defense. Unburdened by any scruples about breaking the law, Mateen was not only unhindered by Florida's ban on carrying firearms in bars and nightclubs, he was enabled by its guarantee of a bonanza of relatively defenseless victims once he'd shot his way past the establishment's sole armed defender.
But rather than focus on the murderous Islamist terrorist who did the deed, too many reactions have looked elsewhere to place blame—specifically, the "AR-15" rifle he used to commit his crime (it was actually an MCX, but "AR-15" is the new "assault weapon"—a term of opprobrium used by all right-thinking people). This reaction takes the animist position that the tool compelled the bearer to do evil, rather than acknowledging Mateen's role in selecting the tool once he'd settled on the crime he wanted to commit.
"Everything You Need to Know About the AR-15 Used in Orlando," trumpeted Rolling Stone, getting yet another story wrong. More carefully, and generically, the Washington Post announced, "The gun used in the Orlando shooting is becoming mass shooters' weapon of choice."
Well…sort of. Omar Mateen's ideological brethren, the terrorists who brutalized Paris last year, selected a related sort of weapon for their butchery: the AK-47. But since the sort of restrictive laws favored by the folks circulating the "Ban Assault Weapons Now" Moveon.org petition on Facebook are already in place in France, instead of going to a gun shop to purchase civilian weapons they went to the black market to illegally acquire military firearms. In both cases, the perpetrators committed themselves to terrorism and then acquired the tools for the job by any means necessary.
"Did your French gun control stop a single fucking person from dying at the Bataclan?" asked Eagles of Death Metal singer Jessie Hughes, who survived the slaughter at the Paris nightclub.
The law was no impediment.
But tools can be used for good as well as evil—if they're available. The patrons at Pulse would have had the potential to defend themselves against Mateen had they been carrying firearms as is permitted in much of the United States. But carrying guns in bars is illegal in Florida, and well-intentioned people are more easily constrained by rules than are terrorists—a fact on which Mateen may have relied.
Bizarrely, the Sun-Sentinel's Michael Mayo insists that the massacre disproved the value of guns, because one armed guard failed to deter Mateen. He's joined by a chorus insisting that letting people defend themselves is no answer.
But not everybody agrees.
"It is difficult, if not impossible, to foresee such an event," notes Gwendolyn Patton, First Speaker of Pink Pistols, a GLBTQ self-defense advocacy organization. "But if they cannot be prevented, then they must be stopped as fast as someone tries to start them."
Patton worries that further legal restrictions will affect only the law-abiding, leaving them yet more defenseless against future Omar Mateens.
Tom Palmer, a gay libertarian and one of the original plaintiffs in the groundbreaking Heller Supreme Court gun rights case, agrees.
"Let's get one thing very clear. Gun control advocates disarmed the victims at that night club," he wrote in the New York Daily News. "Legally designated gun-free zones are invitations to killers."
When good people were not rendered defenseless by law, they have stopped mass murderers. Eugene Volokh rounded up a good selection for the Washington Post, but here are two from just the last few months:
- In April, a Chicago Uber driver shot a gunman who had opened fire on a crowd.
- Weeks before that, Philadelphia police say a good samaritan "saved a lot of people" when he shot and killed a man who opened up on customers and staff in a barber shop.
Pulse's armed guard came close to saving the day when he exchanged fire with Omar Mateen, but the terrorist got by him and to the club's defenseless patrons. Mateen had the run of the place until Orlando police forced their way inside and killed him hours later.
Three years ago, after the Nairobi Westgate mall massacre by yet another band of terrorists unburdened by obedience to strict gun control laws, then Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble conceded that the old reliance on secure perimeters, professional law enforcement response, and ever-tighter restrictions was ineffective against decentralized terrorist attacks on random gatherings of people.
"How do you protect soft targets? That's really the challenge. You can't have armed police forces everywhere," the former U.S. Treasury official, who had overseen the Secret Service and the ATF before joining Interpol, wondered. "Ask yourself: If that was Denver, Col., if that was Texas, would those guys have been able to spend hours, days, shooting people randomly? What I'm saying is it makes police around the world question their views on gun control. It makes citizens question their views on gun control. You have to ask yourself, 'Is an armed citizenry more necessary now than it was in the past with an evolving threat of terrorism?' This is something that has to be discussed."
But too many mass murders of civilians have occurred in places where citizens are legally precluded from arming and thereby defending themselves. If gun control advocates continue to insist on blaming the tools rather than the murderers, experience from Paris, Nairobi, and our own country suggests that they'll just create a few more laws for future Omar Mateens to break on their way to committing mayhem. And they'll make it a little more difficult for intended victims to have a chance at defending themselves without breaking the laws themselves.
Maybe well-intentioned people and potential victims have to recognize that restrictive laws and their deluded promoters are accomplices to these crimes. People who don't want to be victims may have to abide by the wisdom of Patton, Palmer, and Noble and protect themselves – but do so even if that means refusing to be constrained by the laws that predators so readily ignore.
Because the law itself offers no protection from evil people, no matter the tools they choose to use.