Honestly, I’m struggling to figure out the answer. From a purely statistical standpoint, the June 12, 2016 massacre inside Pulse nightclub left the most casualties of any shooting incident in the United States’ 240 year existence. That’s obviously significant, but does the number 102 make this terrible event materially different than, say, the one that took Christina Grimmie’s life less than four miles away the night before? Or the Irving Plaza nightclub shooting two weeks before that? Or the shootings at a movie theater, a university, a military processing center, an elementary school, a church, each of which was the shiny object of its day?
In the wake of every incident, we see the same pat responses: more security guards outside venues (as if there were lots of fully qualified, well-trained would-be guards looking for work before this latest round of violence); more magnetometers (which cost money and require trained personnel to calibrate and operate); dogs (evidently some people-friendly gun-sniffing dogs were looking for work too); more vigilance (I will contemplate doing bodily harm to the next idiot who urges me to “see something, say something,” since it is abundantly clear that most people see nothing and say nothing). I drafted the Event Safety Alliance’s response to Orlando, and while I think it’s pretty constructive, even I found myself reaching for these sorts of solutions.
In an interview for Billboard, I characterized the need for heightened preparedness for an active shooter as “the new normal,” but is anything really new here? What, after Paris and San Bernardino, some reasonable venue operators were still not convinced that gun violence could happen anywhere, but Orlando was the tipping point? I don’t get that.
I hear the call for more active shooter response training for more people in the live event world, and my heart sinks. Literally the day Christina Grimmie was shot to death, I was writing the last few paragraphs of a lengthy article about “Run, Hide, Fight.” Here is a preview. It is a fine program as far as it goes, but it assumes dramatically greater ability to make life or death decisions than most people have. The history of human responses to mortal danger indicates that rather than decisively assessing the danger and then springing into action, the great majority will pretty much do nothing. It has to do with the way our brains process information. Orlando compelled me to add a few more anecdotes to my article, but no new analysis. It fit all the usual patterns.
The story that started this latest parade of horribles is now mostly forgotten. In response to a knee-jerk reaction that the May 26, 2016 Irving Plaza shooting was about nothing more than “rap artists who are basically thugs,” I said that rather than blaming the type of music or the demographic, there was a much broader cause: a man had “a beef and a gun.” I am not looking for “congrats,” but I think the convoluted motives for the two shootings in Orlando suggest that I was right.
The common denominator has only two parts, and everything else, in my opinion, is just noise. Some grievance, and the firepower to quickly take people’s lives in the name of that grievance, are the threads that run through each mass shooting.
I am not so naive as to think that a revival of the flawed assault weapons ban of 1994-2004 would solve all our problems, although AR-15s or their SIG Sauer equivalent were the shooter’s weapon of choice in many of the worst atrocities, including Pulse nightclub. On the other hand, as I said in the current issue of Rolling Stone, it’s just stupid to have a conversation about dealing with gun violence without dealing with guns.
If we cannot have a grown-up discussion about guns, even now, after the worst mass shooting in the country’s history, then I see nothing different about Orlando at all.