Orlando, Guns And Political Extremism

For many people, the shooting in the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando last week generated the responses that have become all too normal for our ever-increasing number of mass shootings: horror, anger and wondering which politician is going to use the tragedy to further an agenda.

There were a variety of factors that led to the attack, but rather than focus on issues such as the prevalence of homophobia in America, I had a feeling politicians were going to repeat their responses to attacks like the one in San Bernardino and focus on two topics: Muslims and guns.

Thankfully, the media seem to finally be letting the first one die down. According to people who knew the shooter Omar Mateen, including his own father, he was not a religious man and likely used ISIS as an excuse to justify his own hateful behavior. He did, by multiple accounts, have a history of homophobia and of violent tendencies in the home, but politicians prefer to focus on any Muslim connections. “Islamic extremism” is not as much a threat as what seems to be the latest flavor of “political extremism.” That is, pushing political agendas is once again taking priority over the voices and safety of average Americans.

Nowhere is that more visible today than in the second topic: guns. Trevor Noah stated as much in his response to the Orlando shooting; the response to mass shootings in America is fundamentally the same almost every time. Some of the debates from the past week are virtually identical to ones I heard before I could even vote. Political extremism always results in nothing actually changing.

Noah pointed out when terrorists used airplanes to cause massive death and destruction on September 11, 2001, we, as a country, certainly went after other factors in the attacks, but one factor we did not rule out was the weapon the terrorists used. Within relatively little time, we worked to make it hard for a terrorist to commit that type of attack again and we did so without banning all citizens from using airplanes. There were, no doubt, many other factors at play in Orlando and other recent mass shootings, but again, that does not mean we should rule out the weapon of choice.

At this point, many responsible gun owners become concerned about “Obama coming for their guns.” And sure enough, within days of the Orlando shooting, a new round of petitions to ban all assault rifles sprang up. But the problem of extreme, all-or-nothing solution is not unique to the Left. Political extremism affects both sides, and the Left insisting unless we confiscate every gun, we will not be safe from any violence is just as counterproductive as the Right insisting unless we can thwart every terrorist, we should not enact any new gun control legislation.

We need to overcome political extremism. Just the other day, four gun control bills were voted on in the senate and none passed. Every amendment seems to get shot down because Republicans refuse to accept all Democrats' requests, and Democrats refuse to compromise on pared-down versions of their proposals. Smaller steps toward reasonable gun control may not solve every problem, but continued inaction is guaranteed to not help anyone.

We need to overcome political extremism. Simple restrictions to prevent criminal activity are not foreign to us. We require someone to pass a test to be allowed to drive a car, we accepted certain restrictions to air travel and we even require ID to purchase cold medicine. Despite what political extremism would have some believe, applying reasonable rules to gun purchasing is not a position only held by the far Left. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, 84.3 percent of gun owners support background checks for all gun sales (often referred to as closing the “gun show loophole”) and 82.2 percent of gun owners support prohibiting people on the terror watch list from owning guns. None of those proposals require taking guns from responsible gun owners, and as President Obama stated yet again earlier this month, that has never been the Democrats' agenda.

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We need to overcome political extremism. There are absolutely other factors at play in mass shootings, but we cannot continue the political gridlock that results in nothing being done to limit attackers' access to the current weapon of choice.

If you have the time, then certainly write to your representatives in Congress, but also talk to your friends and family, and comment on petitions. Despite the Internet's reputation for starting flame wars, I have had a surprising number of great discussions and moderate viewpoints come out of people simply sharing and discussing their views.

We need to overcome political extremism or nothing is going to change.
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