What fools we are. What willful, stubborn, persistent, incurable fools.
Americans submit by the millions to the Transportation Security Administration’s multiple indignities and inconveniences. The TSA will cost us $5.1 billion this year. We’ll fill its trash barrels with tons of cosmetics, lotions and bottled water that we can’t carry on board.
This is in the hope of preventing terrorists from committing more mass murders, such as those of September 11, 2001. And there haven’t been any more in that manner.
But that guards only one gate, while leaving another gaping.
Even as you next pose like a prisoner with arms raised or stand still for a TSA officer to wand you, some terrorist with massacre in mind could be walking into any gun shop and walking out with the means to carry it out.
That’s what Omar Mateen did last week in Florida, where no permit is needed to buy or possess any firearm other than a machine gun. Florida allows even an AR-15 or its equivalent. Such weapons were invented for use in war, not self-defense. They fire as rapidly as a finger can pull a trigger. With a technique called bump fire, a trained shooter supposedly can achieve a rate of 700 rounds per minute.
And so Florida is now the site of America’s worst mass shooting, with 49 innocent people dead and 53 others wounded, many grievously, at an Orlando night club named Pulse.
Mateen appears to have been the most dangerous type of terrorist — homegrown, out of sight of any border control, virtually undetectable.
And yet, there were warnings. His employer, a British-based security firm whose clients include the U.S. government, reportedly was told, according to The New York Times, that he spoke racial, ethnic and sexist slurs and talked about killing people. The FBI looked into him twice. Whether there was negligence is an appropriate question for investigation.
The bigger question, though, is how many more Americans must die en masse, in nightclubs and restaurants and movie theaters and churches and schools, in as few seconds as it takes to read the sentence, before we learn to prohibit the sale and possession of such weapons of mass destruction?
How many more terrorists will we arm?
Predictably, of course, Donald Trump right away scapegoated the entire Muslim community, asserting without a shred of evidence that someone must have known what Mateen intended. In fact, most of the victims of mass shootings in the United States — 621 dead, 594 injured since 1982, according to Mother Jones — were killed by non-Muslims. Do we blame Christianity for Charleston, Virginia Tech, or for Newtown, Aurora, and Columbine? Or for the bombings and shootings, some fatal, at abortion clinics? Radicalism exists in nearly every religious faith and is the enemy of them all.
Right after the San Bernardino massacre, the Senate voted 45-54 against prohibiting persons on the terrorism watch list from buying firearms. If the list is faulty, as some senators objected, it should be fixed. But as of now, there can be no confidence that someone on that list won’t be the next mass murderer.
We’ll hear the gun lobby, doubtlessly, argue yet again that the best defense — the only defense — against the consequences of its insane demands is for everyone to have guns everywhere.
Now suppose that half the people in that crowded, dimly lighted club had weapons when the shooting began. Think about it. Many more than 49 innocent people would be dead. Even when highly trained police stormed the scene, they couldn’t be sure that Mateen would be the only fatality.
Someone posted to Facebook the other day that the NRA is America’s ISIS.
Not so. The NRA does not set out to massacre innocent people.
But the NRA and its associates in the gun lobby are indeed the allies of ISIS and of every other terrorist individual or organization, whatever its roots, where hatred is harbored against Americans because of their faiths, their origins, their race, or their nationality, or where mental illness inspires inchoate rage.
And we — you and I, fellow citizens, are also terrorism’s allies, however unwilling or unwitting me may believe we are.
We are terrorism’s allies so long as we submit to electing people to public office who are so stupid, selfish and cowardly that they would rather enact the insanities of the gun lobby than take reasonable and necessary steps to avert mass murder.
There is no sound reason why any private citizen needs semi-automatic weapons, especially not AR-15s.
Their possession and sale should be criminalized, except perhaps for gun clubs where the weapons would not be allowed off the premises.
For a fraction of what the TSA is costing, we could buy back every such weapon and pay the owners a bonus for their troubles.
The Second Amendment, of which the Supreme Court and the gun lobby have such a distorted view, was written in an age when no firearm on earth could be discharged more than three or four times a minute.
Time and technology have rendered the gun lobby’s interpretation functionally obsolete.
How many more Americans must be slaughtered before we, and our politicians, face that fact?
Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.