Where do we go from Orlando?
Last Saturday, I joined thousands of people at the LGBT Pride Parade in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the freedom of all Americans to be who we are without fear of persecution.
Ten hours later, Omar Mateen opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando. It was a horrific reminder that, despite America’s progress toward treating LGBT people with dignity and respect, acts of violence inspired by homophobia still threaten our communities. No words can express the profound sense of loss and heartbreak I feel for the victims and their families.
A tragedy of this magnitude forces us to ask questions. How could we have prevented this attack? What can we do to prevent the next one? These questions have no simple or satisfying answers, and our divided politics often stand in the way of an honest and productive discussion. But I believe we can all agree on a few practical steps to protect Americans from the type of unimaginable, yet all too common, tragedy that struck Orlando.
To start, I hope we can all agree to a universal and unambiguous rejection of hate and discrimination in America. Whether you view this tragedy through the lens of a hate crime, domestic terrorism, or both, one of the key ingredients remains the same: There are people in this country and around the world who deny the humanity of certain groups based on where they are from, what they believe, or whom they love.
We can choose to compound this hatred and direct our anger and fear toward Muslims, Afghans or immigrant communities, ignoring that all three groups strongly reject this terrible violence. Or we can show the world that America’s response to terrorism can be strong without being intolerant. We can uphold America’s commitment to accept people of different faiths and ethnicities because that is what separates us from our enemies. On this point, I believe our choice is clear.
I also hope we can agree that it is too easy in this country for dangerous people to get their hands on dangerous weapons. The clearest common denominator between those the 49 people killed in Orlando, the 14 killed in San Bernardino, the 12 killed in Aurora and the 28 teachers and children killed in Newtown, is that a hateful individual gained access to an assault-style weapon.
The Second Amendment guarantees our right to bear arms and that right should be protected. But our constitutional rights are routinely subject to reasonable limits. It is possible to respect the rights of lawful gun owners while also protecting American lives.
Unfortunately, Republican opposition to this idea is so absolute that it prevents Congress from taking basic steps to stop gun violence. Lifting the absurd ban that stops federal health agencies from studying the causes of gun violence should be a no-brainer, yet Republican lawmakers continue to fight it. Ninety percent of Americans support background checks for all gun sales, but this idea is considered so extreme it can’t be brought to the House floor for a vote. Republicans even oppose restricting people on the terrorist watch list from purchasing a firearm.
Americans are 25 times more likely than people in other developed nations to be murdered by a gun. It is irresponsible for Congress to continue its long-standing tradition of doing nothing.
This is one lesson we can take from Orlando, but it’s not the one that some people are learning. Donald Trump repeated his call this week for a ban on Muslims coming to this country, echoing the alarming xenophobia that serves as a pillar of his campaign. He is seeking to capitalize on our fear to do something that is completely counterproductive, distinctly un-American, and not a solution for mass shootings.
Like you, I am jarred by what happened in Orlando. I know that Mateen could just as easily have shown up at the parade I attended. But I will not allow fear to triumph over America’s values, and I will not accept inaction as our response to the epidemic of gun violence in our communities. And neither should you.