One Day in Port St. Lucie…
On sunny Northwest Concourse Place, a man walked into a gun shop. There is nothing unusual about this. It was the St. Lucie Shooting Centre, but it could have been any of about ten gun shops that the small Florida town has. It provides a full range of services: gun rental, a shooting range and even a fast track course to get your concealed weapon permit (costs $55, but shop around and you can get it for $49).
The man in question was 29-year-old Omar Mateen. He had no trouble purchasing a 9mm semi-automatic pistol and a far deadlier AR15 rifle. He even got to try them out in the shop’s shooting range.
The NRA calls the AR15 “America’s Rifle”. It is keen to point out that it is not an assault rifle. By definition, an assault rifle has to be capable of firing in fully-automatic mode, but the AR15 that is sold to the public can only fire semi-automatic single shots, reloading automatically. It describes the AR15 as something “adaptable, reliable and accurate that can be used in sport shooting, hunting and self-defence situations”.
The AR15 was originally conceived by the Armalite Company, with the rights sold to Colt in 1959; Colt used the design to make the military-issue M16. Since then, the AR15 has been manufactured by several companies and ‘AR15’ has become a generic term for this style of rifle. The one that Mateen bought was made by Sig Sauer. Be in no doubt that the original design purpose of this weapon was to create a device that one person could use to kill as many other people as possible in the most efficient manner. Any other purpose is secondary to the original design and is certainly not the motivation behind Mateen’s purchase.
Edward Henson, known as Big Ed, is the proprietor of the St. Lucie Shooting Centre. He vaguely remembers Mateen. He is quite adamant that Mateen passed all the required checks and carried all the right permits to purchase the weapons he would later use. He is not happy that the weapon was bought at his establishment, but points out that if it hadn’t been bought there, it could have as easily been bought somewhere else within the same town.
Within days, Mateen was driving the 125 miles from Port St. Lucie to the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. In his car, he had an AR15 rifle, a Glock 9mm handgun and several hundred rounds of ammunition. At two minutes past two on the morning of 12 June, he entered the Pulse Nightclub and began shooting. In three hours, he shot 100 people, killing 49 of them. At approximately 5am, police smashed down a wall of the building using a Bearcat armoured vehicle and shot Mateen dead.
This is not the first time the AR15 has been used in a mass shooting. The LA Times reports that it was also the weapon of choice at San Barnadino, killing 14, and Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 27 were killed.
Much speculation has been made over the motives behind the Pulse Nightclub attack and I am sure even more will surface. In 2013, at the security firm where Mateen worked, a colleague by the name of Daniel Gilroy, an ex-policeman, was so appalled by the violent rhetoric used by Mateen against many groups that he reported it. The FBI interviewed him but didn’t pursue it any further. He was interviewed again in 2014 over his contact with a US citizen who went on to become a suicide bomber; again, the case was not pursued. Sitora Yusafiy was his first wife and claims she reported domestic abuse to the police. This is important because it is one of the criteria that would have prevented the purchase of firearms. Again, nothing was done.
The word ‘terrorist’ has been used a lot. As if this can be an umbrella cause of the event. It’s backed up by a phone call from Mateen to the police made during the shooting. John Mina, chief of Orlando police, states that Omar pledged his allegiance to Islamic State and called on the United States to stop bombing Syria. The Amaq news agency reports that Islamic State is claiming that he was an Islamic State fighter. I don’t give Amaq much credence though as it claims a lot of things – it seems to trawl the news networks and take credit for any event that suits its purpose. There are also unsubstantiated reports that Mateen was a closet homosexual who couldn’t come to terms with his own sexuality.
You can’t, and probably shouldn’t, try to legislate against people’s personal views, however wrong or downright abhorrent you believe them to be. Not every man who has a big row with his spouse is going to be a danger to the public. If a nation decides under its own system of democracy that citizens have the right to bear arms, then that is its choice. But does it really have to be so easy? Personally, I am incredulous that any person can just walk into a shop and walk out with a device that was created for mass killing for less than the cost of a new moped. A waiting period is required for a handgun, but not a rifle like the AR15. There may be cursory checks done at a shop, but if Mateen had chosen to buy the weapon privately, the state of Florida does not require any background checks on gun sales between private individuals
CNBC quotes the NRA legal team as stating “there are about five million AR15-type rifles held by private individuals in the US”. It is expected that sales of firearms are going to increase following this tragedy as more citizens decide that they need them to feel safe. One can also assume that, in the short term at least, the number of AR15-type weapons will increase.
The events at the Pulse Nightclub on 12 June 2016 can be considered horrific on any scale. The reasons why this type of event happens are many and I can’t see how a society priding itself on upholding civil liberties can legislate against them. How they happen is a bit more tangible and maybe something could be done. It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but maybe the United States should consider restrictions on the sale of this kind of weapon. Or is the price of these lives lost worth paying to retain a private individual’s right to own a high-calibre, semi-automatic rifle designed for use by the military in times of war?
Today, the weather forecast says that it will be sunny in Port St. Lucie, but there is a storm coming. The chances are that in the time it has taken me to write this another person has walked into a shop and left with an AR15-type rifle. I expect that Big Ed is rolling up his shutter and getting ready for another busy day.
Global Seven News