After reports of the mounting death toll at an Orlando gay club emerged Sunday night, disagreement over the political valence of the worst lone-wolf mass shooting in U.S. history overwhelmed discussion in the press and on social media. Governor Chris Christie was no exception, calling for further military intervention in ISIS-controlled portions of Iraq and Syria.
At a State House press conference Thursday Christie said the shooter, American-born Afghani Omar Mateen, learned the homophobia that led him to slaughter 49 people from a pernicious interpretation of Islam. Christie believes eliminating terrorist groups abroad will do more to prevent future attacks than restoring the nationwide ban on automatic assault rifles.
“Radical Islamic terrorism is what brought that man into that club with violent intent — not the gun — his ideology is what brought him into that club,” Christie said.
“His hatred for the LGBT community is rooted in his radical interpretation of Islam, yet you don’t hear anybody down the hall talking about that because it doesn’t suit their political purposes.”
Down the hall, the state Assembly had just passed a Democratic-sponsored resolution to roll back changes to New Jersey’s handgun permit application process.
That resolution, which would allow only former police officers, armed security personnel, and those with specific and demonstrable threats against their life to carry a firearm, will now go to Christie’s desk. Christie’s outgoing Attorney General changed state regulations to include those with “generalized” fear for their safety in April.
Christie managed to outstrip New Jersey’s anti-gay outliers like Congressman Scott Garrett (R-5), whose know-nothing statement after the shooting made no mention of the victims’ sexuality and made no call for policy changes.
Garrett’s Central Jersey counterpart Leonard Lance (R-7), who has walked a fine line of voting for certain LGBT non-discrimination measures while touting his vote to weaken employment protections for federal contractors, took a similar approach as he called for additional social media tracking of suspected terrorists.
The governor deserves some credit for avoiding the queasy omissions of Garrett and Lance, who have more to fear from constituents in their conservative districts. But acknowledging that anti-LGBT sentiment did play a role pales next to his flat denial that Florida’s permissive gun laws played their own part.
As a licensed armed security guard, Mateen could have easily qualified for a license to carry in New Jersey despite its stricter regulations. Though New Jersey has a statewide assault weapons ban, the tragedy in Orlando demonstrates the need for our legislature to do more — not less.
In the conversation about the Orlando massacre politicians, pundits and the public have largely followed Christie’s same line of thinking: isolate the motivations of the shooter, and you will necessarily isolate the cause of the attack.
But Mateen’s proclaimed allegiances paint a confused picture, defying any politically expedient shorthand.
The 29 year-old pledged allegiance to ISIS during the early-morning attack, but had claimed family ties to its bitter opponents Al Qaeda and Hezbollah in the past. Mateen’s father and ex-wife have told reporters that his observance of the Koran was scattershot at best, and that he would become enraged at the sight of men kissing.
Mateen had profiles on gay dating apps, and had been something close to a regular at the Pulse nightclub, where he carried out his rampage. He was a self-proclaimed radical, and a man either attracted to men or preoccupied by the possibility.
The homophobia that spurred Mateen on is rooted in misogyny, a cultural universal. I will leave it to better minds than mine to decide whether a radical interpretation of Islam or a state legislative climate of open hostility to gays, lesbians and transgender people did more to encourage him.
His motives are debatable. The ease with which he obtained a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle is not.