The murder of at least 49 people in Orlando early Sunday was an act of terrorism, pure and simple. It appears to have been driven by Islamic extremism and anti-gay sentiment, and yes, once again, a gun designed for no other purpose than to kill a large number of people in a short amount of time was central to the crime.
The killings occurred near closing time of a nightclub that caters to the LGBT community, when Omar Mateen — reportedly a New York native who was living in the Fort Pierce area, 120 miles north of Miami — entered with an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle and let loose in a barrage that lasted, as one of the survivors said, a song's length of time. It was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, moving instantly to the top of a list that roils the stomach. Over the next few days, investigators will try to understand the dangerous interplay of religious fundamentalism, gay hatred and whatever other motivations drove Mateen to his demented actions.
It should go without saying that not all Muslims should be blamed for the acts of fanatics and fundamentalists. That remains as true as ever. Sunday's tragedy also shows that the Obama administration has been right to view Islamic State not as some far-away militia that poses no threat to the U.S., but as a dangerous group whose hostility to this country can have immediate and terrible consequences. That's true even if the perpetrators are acting on their own without direct orders or support from the organization. Mateen had reportedly pledged allegiance to Islamic State in a 911 call around the time of the attack.
While it is essential to understand the motivations of the gunman, that shouldn't distract us from the issue of all-too-ready access to guns. The killings were done with such disgusting efficiency because the gunman used a military-style firearm that has no business being in circulation in a civilized society. That blood is on the hands of the National Rifle Assn. and its sycophants in Congress who have conspired to make this a more dangerous nation.
In the five years since U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was critically wounded in an attack in which six people were killed and a dozen more were wounded, the nation has endured a steady parade of such mass killings. Each was horrifying in its details and death toll, but collectively the shootings — an elementary school, a Navy yard, a movie theater, randomly on city streets — form an indictment of our society.
The nation has had these debates before, but with no effect. Remember when the slaughter of innocent children at Newtown, Conn., was going to change the gun-control debate? Remember after Giffords was wounded and her friends and supporters killed that some thought Congress might finally muster the political will to attack this cancer?
Everything will change, except it doesn't. The following list is of shooting incidents since the Giffords attacks in which at least three people were killed. There could well be more incidents that didn't rise above the din of the news of the moment, so it's not an exhaustive list. But it is exhausting, and our national failure to address gun violence in a meaningful way is one of the embarrassments of our age.
Feb. 25, 2016: Three killed, 14 wounded in Hesston, Kan.
Feb. 20, 2016: Six killed, two wounded in Kalamazoo County, Mich.
Dec. 2, 2015: 14 killed, 21 wounded in San Bernardino. Read more >>
Nov. 27, 2015: Three killed, nine wounded in Colorado Springs, Colo. Read more >>
Oct. 21, 2015: Three killed in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Oct. 1, 2015: Nine killed, nine wounded in Roseburg, Ore. Read more >>
July 16, 2015: Five killed, two wounded in Chattanooga, Tenn. Read more >>
June 17, 2015: Nine killed, one wounded in Charleston, S.C. Read more >>
June 11, 2015: Three killed, one wounded in Menasha, Wisc.
Oct. 24, 2014: Five killed, one wounded in Marysville, Wash.
May 23, 2014: Six killed, 13 wounded in Santa Barbara (some of the victims were stabbed). Read more >>
April 3, 2014: Three killed, 12 wounded at Fort Hood, Texas. Read more >>
Feb. 20, 2014: Four killed, two wounded in Alturas, Calif.
Sept. 16, 2013: 12 killed, eight wounded in Washington, D.C. Read more >>
July 26, 2013: Seven killed in Hialeah, Fla.
June 7, 2013: Six killed, three wounded in Santa Monica. Read more >>
April 21, 2013: Five killed in Federal Way, Wash.
March 13, 2013: Five killed, two wounded in Herkimer County, N.Y.
Dec. 14, 2012: 28 killed, two wounded in Newtown, Conn.
Sept. 27, 2012: Seven killed, one wounded in Minneapolis. Read more >>
Aug. 5, 2012: Seven killed, three wounded in Oak Creek, Wisc. Read more >>
July 20, 2012: 12 killed, 58 wounded in Aurora, Colo. Read more >>
May 20, 2012: Six killed, one wounded in Seattle.
April 2, 2012: Seven killed, three wounded in Oakland. Read more >>
Feb. 22, 2012: Five killed in Norcross, Ga.
Oct. 14, 2011: Eight killed, one wounded in Seal Beach. Read more >>
Sept. 6, 2011: Five killed, seven wounded in Carson City, Nev.
Jan. 8, 2011: Six killed, 13 wounded (including Giffords) in Tucson. Read more >>
This list is drawn from statistics maintained by Mother Jones magazine.
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June 13, 7:22 a.m.: This article was updated to reflect a revision in the official count of Mateen's victims and new disclosures from law enforcement about when he declared allegiance to Islamic State.
4:13 p.m.: This article was updated to reflect the latest reporting.
1:51 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details.
This article was originally published at 10:34 a.m.
FOR THE RECORD
11:50 a.m.: A previous version of this article said that Omar Mateen was living in Tampa, Fla. He was living in the Fort Pierce area.