At 2:00 a.m. on June 12, a terrorist who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State attacked a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., killing 49 people and injuring 53 others. Police later killed the shooter during a hostage standoff. The attack was the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history, the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people in U.S. history, and the deadliest terrorist attack in the U.S. since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Eleven observations on this incident follow.
1. A gun-free zone is a victim disarmament zone. The Pulse nightclub was a gun-free zone. But criminals are defined by the fact that they disregard laws as well as the wishes of private property owners. As such, the only people who would have a gun in a gun-free zone would be government agents and criminals (but I repeat myself). Mass shooters usually choose gun-free zones to attack, as they know that they will almost certainly not be facing citizens who can shoot back.
2. Politicians will never let a crisis go to waste. Before the dead bodies were even cold, leftists predictably began calling for tougher gun control measures. To politicize a tragedy and use it to put emotion above reason and evidence is par from the course for those who seek to expand the power of the state and curtail individual rights. Like other mass shooters before him, this gunman was undeterred by the background checks which are in place, as he had no felony convictions, no domestic violence convictions, no restraining orders against him, no dishonorable discharge from the military, was not a fugitive from justice, was never committed to a mental institution, and was not denied a firearm purchase by mistake. No measures that have been proposed would have disarmed the shooter without also disarming many innocent people.
3. Internal conflicts that are irreconcilable predictably lead to violence. The shooter was both gay and Muslim. The Quran condemns homosexuality, and some schools of Islamic jurisprudence support capital punishment for it, especially those linked to terrorism. As such, the shooter had a belief that an aspect of his being that he could not change made him worthy of death or other severe punishment. Those who think so lowly of themselves are unlikely to think highly of others, especially others who share that aspect of one’s being. Those who think lowly of themselves and others are far more likely to commit violent crimes than those who have a healthy sense of self-respect and respect for others.
4. Government has not solved this problem because it cannot. Governments are effective at destroying other centralized entities. If there is a physical target that can be bombed or a living person that can be exterminated, states are usually able to carry out those acts. (Of course, they frequently go overboard with their bombings and killings, which motivates more people to become terrorists, but statists rarely care about this, as prolonged war is prolonged health of the state.) The regimes of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein quickly fell after the U.S. military invaded their respective lands. But in their wake came decentralized enemies in the form of anti-occupation insurgents, online jihadist recruitment, and home-grown lone-wolf terrorists. These have proven impossible for governments to stop. After all, governments, with their bureaucratic red tape and intrinsic inefficiencies, must be correct every time in order to prevent all terrorist attacks. Islamic jihadists, with their ability to remotely recruit and train new terrorists anywhere in the world, need only be correct once to carry out each attack. When governments do catch such terrorists, they must do so either through a legally dubious entrapment scheme or by catching the terrorist after an attack has been carried out. Even these arrests sometimes occur after private citizens find terrorists who evade government agents.
5. Even if governments could stop terrorism, it would not be in their interest to do so. If the War on Terrorism were won, then the rationale for police statism and massive military spending would vanish. If the War on Terrorism were lost, then the state would fail at the one job that it is supposedly solely capable of performing, namely keeping its people safe. The ideology of Islamic terrorists disallows a draw, so the only other option is an endless war.
6. Part of the solution is division, not unification. People cannot peacefully coexist with people who want to kill them. If people cannot peacefully coexist, then they need to separate. It makes perfect sense for an LGBT establishment to ban known adherents of a religion that considers LGBT people to be fair targets for killing. But governments interfere with the private property rights and freedom of association of their citizens by enforcing laws against discrimination, thus preventing people from taking necessary and proper measures to ensure their safety.
7. Some religions are more dangerous than others. There are many religions which call for violence against non-believers as well as violence against people who engage in certain sexual practices, even if those practices do no harm to anyone who is not a willing participant. But in the contemporary world, Islam has a disproportionate percentage of followers who believe that such violence is legitimate.
8. In the digital age, dead men can still tell tales. The shooter was radicalized in part by videos made by Anwar al-Awlaki, a pro-terrorism imam. Although Awlaki was killed in a drone strike in September 2011, his videos live on at various locations on the Internet. As such, killing recruiters for terrorism is no longer sufficient to stop them.
9. A backlash is likely to follow. Just as far-right anti-immigrant movements gained ground following the Paris attacks and the Brussels attacks, they are likely to do so again, especially with the rise of Donald Trump. Although the shooter was born in New York and raised in Florida, his parents immigrated from Afghanistan. His father is a well-known Taliban sympathizer who holds anti-American and anti-LGBT views. In a sense, it is worse for a person born and raised in a country to commit a terrorist attack there than for an immigrant to do so, as it suggests a fundamental incompatibility between cultures.
10. The terrorist has blood on his hands, but so does the American government. The American government allowed the shooter’s parents to enter the country despite their own radicalism, banned discrimination, conducted an interventionist foreign policy that motivated terrorists like this one to retaliate, and failed to stop him despite knowing that he was a threat. While the ultimate responsibility for evil acts falls upon those who commit the acts, there is a vicarious responsibility upon the American government for taking actions which made the attacks possible and likely.
11. Terrorism cannot be solved by more terrorism. Merriam-Webster defines terrorism as “the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal.” Oxford defines terrorism as “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” A government is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on the initiation of force within a geographical area. In other words, a government uses violence and intimidation to keep its population obedient and manage external threats to its operation. This leads to an important truth that few wish to speak: every government is a terrorist organization. For decades, Western nations have attempted to defeat Islamic terrorism with more terrorism in the form of military interventions, to build Western democracies among populations whose cultures are incompatible with such an apparatus, and to arm one faction against another even though such weapons frequently fall into the hands of the most evil and destructive groups. What Western leaders fail to realize is that in the irrational game of Middle East politics, the only winning moves for them are to withdraw from the game or to knock over the board.