On June 12th, 2016, in Orlando Florida, 49 people were murdered at a gay nightclub/center—mostly young, mostly gay, many Puerto Rican. Fifty-three people were injured, six of them critically. The man who killed them, 29 year old Omar Mateen, somehow got into the nightclub with an AR-15 assault rifle and assault pistol. The carnage and horror were extreme. People witnessed others dying right next to them; their trauma will be felt for years. The families of the dead and the injured were also of course traumatized, as were GLBT people everywhere in the world, and most everyone else.
Mateen, who had apparently been planning this atrocity for some time, was certainly mentally deranged. And his former wife alleged he was mentally ill and had been mentally and physically abusive to her. His wife at the time of the massacre had known of his plans and tried to dissuade him from them; it could be that she did not report to authorities because of fear of reprisal from Mateen. At this time we do not know this. Whether Mateen was harboring secret bi-sexual tendencies we do not know. He had visited the Pulse on occasion. Was this to gain a clearer picture of what it might be like to act on his (supposed) fantasies, or was it to search out the security situation at the club and become a familiar face to people there? The answers do not really impinge on the suffering of those left behind.
If he was not interested in being with men in a sexual way, then it would seem he put a lot of effort in learning about the place of the killings. Some of the most dedicated homophobes have been people struggling with their own gay desires; his father said Mateen had been very angry, disturbed, at seeing two men kissing. This kind of response can come because of learned disgust, hatred; it can also happen when we see our secret desires acted out by others. And if Mateen was identifying with very conservative Muslim ideas, he most likely had a deep inner conflict going on. His father stated, after the killings, that it had been wrong for Omar to do what he did, as it is for “God” to “punish.” From this statement it seems Omar may have been raised with the idea it was not OK to be gay. Another fact is that just days before, he had tried to contact the owner of another gay night spot in Orlando…was he having doubts about the location of the mayhem?
Mass murder/suicide (by one’s own means or by Police and security personnel) seems to be a feature of these times, sadly. Suicidal thoughts certainly can alternate or accompany homicidal ones. As we know, some killers seek fame, albeit postmortem fame. This certainly can explain Omar’s references to ISIL (he used “ISIS”), expecting perhaps they would ally with his act, or even just that the media would connect the two, giving a measure of glory. There has been a lot of mention in the media about young men, some women, especially, in North America and Europe, some in rather fundamentalist groups (or identifying with these) who are lost souls, without community support, who identify with ideas on the internet…ideas which seem to lift them up to some great sense of self, as well as to a sense of belonging. Mateen may not have belonged anywhere, but he perhaps had fantasies of been accepted by ISIL.
Forty-seven years ago on my 25th birthday the Stonewall uprising took place in New York City. The gay men and transgendered folks there had been behind the gay curtain for too long and rose up for freedom. This gave heart and courage to the greater LGBT community. It gave rise to Gay Pride. In the 1980’s and for years after these communities and their friends and supporters somehow got through the devastation of AIDS. Gays were accused of causing the wrath of “god” and bringing this (punishment again) upon themselves. They were shunned by many. And they and their friends and families suffered years of heartbreak and grieving for those who died. The medical system took its time to deal with this health crisis, adding to the sense of betrayal. In 1969 here in Canada Pierre Trudeau introduced legislation which passed, ridding the law making homosexuality illegal. Ontario in 1977 was the first province to include gays and Lesbians in the Human rights Code, giving them protection from discrimination in housing, public accommodation, and employment. In 1999 gay couples in Canada gained the same legal standing as those in common law marriages. Finally in 2005 Canada made gay marriage legal. And in the US gay marriage was legalized in 2015.
Who makes a record of the measure such trauma as the Orlando event leaves upon us, our communities, our nations, and our world? We have thousands of years of history in which accumulated trauma has passed to us from generations of our ancestors. And in recent times, from civil wars to international wars, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Nazi concentration camps and atrocities, have added much weight onto the mound we already bear. There are places in our world in which we have witnessed genocide, use of chemical weapons, drone killings, child soldiers, mass rape of women and children, enslavement of same.
We all live, also, with the certain knowledge that at any moment a nuclear mistake, or war, or insane person could trigger the end of our world in probably less than an hour. How’s that for trauma? We all experience the extinction of species, of ecosystems, of traditional ways of life, and the lessening availability of wholesome food. There is also the possibility of nuclear power plant disasters at any time. There are disastrous floods, droughts, hurricanes, snow storm. Inside us, whether consciously or not, we all carry these horrendous realities with us, daily. They beat in our heartbeats, change our nervous systems. They creep into our nights, in sleeplessness and in dreams. They are at the bottom of our individual, community, and national and international decisions.
The great psychiatrist R.D. Laing viewed mental illness, including schizophrenia, as a natural part of the social matrix; society creates its own responses to itself, and these invariably show up in some of its members. In North American society today we have poverty, homelessness, isolation, suicide including suicide of children. We have materialism, the knowledge there will be no future, or a future very different from what we may have expected or hoped. We have drug and alcohol addiction, depression, murders, mass murders, more and more people with PTSD. PTSD itself is part of that reflection of society, as it is not an abnormal, but a normal human response to trauma. So mental health issues, and suicide, violence, are warning signs about the health of society. How we respond to these warning signs is of crucial importance.
Despite years of public demands, the US Congress has refused to put more restrictive gun controls in place. This may change a bit now after what happened in Orlando, with some Republicans recognizing the need for changes. The National Rifle Association has appeared to hold sway in the past, and one of their strategies has been the cry of the “Second Amendment” defending the right of individuals to bear arms. The background of the US second Amendment to the Constitution reaches back hundreds of years in English precedents relating to the powers of the King/Queen and royal army versus the militia of those who may need forcefully to oppose the royals. The main concern of the founders of the Second Amendment was that the people, or the states would have no way to defend themselves from a tyrannical government—unless they were able to form a militia. In those times it was understood that a community could not form a militia unless individual members of the community were able to bear arms (I guess they were not thinking of storing the arms in one place). Of course now the US has a military force that no city or state or group of states could adequately fight, so the whole point of the Second Amendment could now be said to be moot.
According to the Small Arms Survey, figures for 2007 and 2011 are given below for number of guns owned per 100 residents.
US rank #1 112.6 guns
Canada rank #12 30.8
UK rank #82 6.6
US rank #1 88.8 guns
Canada #9 31
UK #88 6
I do not know what would explain the discrepancy in the number of guns in the US between the two years shown. Ironically I write this on a day that a female member of Parliament in the UK, Jo Cox, was murdered. It is thought this resulted from the killer disagreeing with her political ideas. In Canada guns which are prohibited are assault weapons and sawed-off rifles and shotguns. Handguns are usually classified as restricted, and rifles and shotguns are usually non-restricted. In order to purchase a gun one must have a license and go through a screening process. The person must take a safety course and have a criminal record check done; then there is a waiting period. To purchase a gun in a store in the US a check is done and the purchase can be made within minutes. To circumvent the check, one can buy a gun at a gun show or buy from a friend.
Intentional homicides by country, per 100,000 population.
2011 2012 2013
US 5 5 4
Canada 2 2 1
UK 1 1 1
Some years ago CBC reported on a study which showed that in the US over the time of growing up, children witnessed an average of 18,000 murders on TV or in movies. There is a media culture message that murder is a regular way of dealing with things or persons who get in our way. What kind of social norm is this?! As Marian Anderson so beautifully sang in the song from South Pacific, “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear…you’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, before you are six or seven or eight, to hate all the people your relatives hate; you’ve got to be carefully taught.”
We humans know so much and care about so much. Our ships have sailed not only around the world but to the Moon and out to other planets. We have invented the bomb that can put an end the world as we have known it, built the electric car, built robots, studied genes, and many other wondrous and scary things. We have produced great streams of spirituality, great artists—Shakespeare, Beethoven, Mozart, Georgia O’Keeffe, Joan Baez, Tracy Chapman, Gary Snyder, Miriam Makeba, and on and on. We built the Pyramids and beautiful temples, invented myriad musical instruments, wrote comedies, developed geometry and calculus, learned how to resolve conflict non-violently. Our venerated persons include Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, the Dali Lama, Malala Yousafzai, Leymah Gbowee, Pope Francis, and many others.
Can we gain the wisdom and strength of purpose to change direction at this critical our species on this planet? Can we face these things directly–violence, violence as war, mental health problems, inequality, our destruction of the air, land, oceans, with the honesty that comes through facing the imbalances in many of our societies? Shall we read the meaning of the realities and take responsibility? Then we might come together so that all these forms of violence are discarded. What shall we create to deal with this Gordian knot of complex puzzles that make up our own current situation? This is the question. Let us share it, ingest it, digest it, dream about it, dance it, sing it, and shower each other with the light that comes.
“How American Gun Deaths Compare to Canada’s.” National Observer, Dec. 4, 2015.
Laing, R.D., The Politics of Experience. Pantheon Books, Random House, NY. 1967.
“The History of the Second Amendment.” David E. Vandercoy, Valparaiso Univ. Law Review, #28. 1007-1039 (1994).
“You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught.” Rodgers and Hammerstein.