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A year ago, hate killed nine church members at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
This week, hate killed 49 revelers at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
Between the two heinous acts, hate has killed time and again — at a pair of military facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee; at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon; at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, Colorado; and during a workplace holiday party in San Bernardino, California.
Before then, hate killed in random shooting sprees, at a Sikh temple, in movie theaters and in a kindergarten classroom. Hate will undoubtedly kill again. The killing has come in the name of perverted interpretations of Islam, white supremacy, the anti-abortion movement and insanity. Each time, hate was armed with guns — sometimes handguns, sometimes assault rifles, sometimes both.
Breaking News Emails
Easy access to firearms, including military-grade firepower, has made the bloody work of hate in America as routine as, well, gunfire in America.
More than 100,000 people are shot each year in the United States. Every year, more than 30,000 people are killed — 89 every single day — from gun violence. Some die in clips of one or two at a time. Mass shootings (four or more people killed in a single episode) take more lives, often many more.
“For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation,” President Barack Obama said in Charleston a year ago, as he delivered the eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was shot down with eight congregants during a bible study at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church.
“Sporadically, our eyes are open: When eight of our brothers and sisters are cut down in a church basement, 12 in a movie theater, 26 in an elementary school. But I hope we also see the 30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every single day, the countless more whose lives are forever changed — the survivors crippled, the children traumatized and fearful every day as they walk to school, the husband who will never feel his wife’s warm touch, the entire communities whose grief overflows every time they have to watch what happened to them happen to some other place.”
Yesterday, a day before the first anniversary of that terrible day at Emanuel church, Obama traveled to Orlando to deliver warmth and words of comfort to the 49 families of those killed in the massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.
Afterward, he said the families were not alone in their grief and that the entire country was "shaken by an evil, hateful act.”
"Our hearts are broken, too," Obama said. "We stand with you."
He assured, “There is strength in our unity.”
"Our politics have conspired to make it as easy as possible for a terrorist ... to buy extraordinary powerful weapons, and they can do so legally," Obama said, adding that grieving parents "don't care about politics. Neither do I. This debate needs to change."
"Those who defend the easy accessibility of assault weapons should meet these families," he said.
Since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut, which claimed the lives of 20 small children and their teachers, 1,065 people have been killed in mass shootings, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive's database. Yet, even with that staggering death toll, Congress has done nothing.
No candlelight vigils or T-shirts splayed with the names and faces of the dead or moments of silence could resurrect all that’s been destroyed by gunfire.
Earlier this week, a group of House Democrats walked out during a moment of silence called by House Speaker Paul Ryan to honor of the victims of the Orlando shooting, with one of them, Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes, calling such a gesture an “obnoxious expression of smug incompetence.”
The silence was interrupted by Democratic lawmakers shouting, “Where’s the bill?” and angrily chanting, “No leadership!”
The next day, Senate Democrats, led by Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, launched a 15-hour filibuster to force some action gun legislation, including an amendment that would keep people on the FBI terrorist watch list from being able to legally buy a gun. The filibuster ended on Thursday after Republican and Democratic leaders came to an agreement on bringing a vote on the gun issues to the floor.
“Now we still have to get from here to there,” Murphy said in wrapping up the filibuster.
From here to there.
In Charleston on Friday, the city and the Emanuel A.M.E. Church will begin several days of remembrance for the victims of last year’s attack. There will be an ecumenical service with the governor and a host of local leaders. There will be a Bible study, a prayer breakfast, a walk and a march remembering the lives lost.
“As a family, I think there’s a lot of healing going on, a lot of things that are positive,” said JA Moore, whose sister, Myra Thompson, was among those killed at Emanuel church. “But from a community perspective, we had 10 African-Americans die in a high-profile way,” he said, referring to the Emanuel nine and Walter Scott, who was shot and killed months earlier by a police officer in nearby North Charleston.
This anniversary, Moore said he’s feeling “unfulfilled.”
“My sister and the eight other people’s lives are still sacrifices that are unfulfilled. We still have so much more that we have to do,” Moore said in terms of healing. “A speech ain’t going to do it. An interview ain’t going to do it. There are going to be 20 events going on because of this tragedy, but none of them are going to fix inequality, racism or hate. I’m still very frustrated. You would think that in 2016, things would change because of these horrific events, but they probably won’t.”
Dylann Roof, a young white supremacist, faces multiple counts of murder and hate crimes in the Emanuel slayings, as well as the death penalty. The night of the killings, he sat with the group during a Bible study before opening fire with a .45 caliber handgun he purchased shortly prior. Roof, now 22, would later say that he chose his victims at the historic black church to start a race war.
Roof should have never been able to purchase the gun in the first place. He should’ve been barred from buying the gun because of an earlier drug arrest. But a loophole in federal law gives investigators with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System three days to complete and return a gun buyer’s background check. The deadline passed in this case, allowing the sale to go through.
More than 3,000 people a year who shouldn’t be able to legally buy a gun slip through this crack in background check system. In Charleston, that slip facilitated the mass murder of innocent church-goers.
A year later, another mass killer slipped under the radar of federal authorities. Last Sunday, Omar Mateen, 29, the New York-born son of immigrants from Afghanistan, entered the darkened Pulse nightclub and slaughtered 49 people, wounding 53 others before being killed in a shootout with police. Many believe Mateen should have never been legally able to purchase the Sig Sauer MCX assault rifle and Glock handgun he bought shortly before the massacre.
Mateen, who during the bloodshed called 911 to declare his allegiance to ISIS, had twice been contacted by the FBI. First in 2013, after he'd made comments to coworkers that implied a tie to terrorist organizations, and again in 2014, after special agents discovered that Mateen had communicated with a known terrorist. In both cases, investigators found little evidence to substantiate any meaningful ties to terrorists or terrorist organizations, and the cases were closed.
Beyond radicalism, investigators are looking into claims by several regulars at Pulse that Mateen had been a somewhat regular patron of the place. Others have said that they recognized him from Grindr, a gay dating app, and that Mateen had propositioned men for sex or dates.
Mateen’s father said that a couple months ago, the sight of two men kissing enraged Mateen.
The Charleston and Orlando cases speak to a troubling twosome of hate and easy access to weapons. The massacres illustrate what many see as our new normal — that there are no safe spaces from hate, not in nightclubs or classrooms or street corners. Not even in the sanctity of innocence or youth. There are not walls big enough to keep the bullets away, not when the guns that spit them spread across this country as easily as dandelion seed, too often landing in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.
Perhaps now, on the anniversary of one tragedy and the heels of another, lawmakers will finally break their silence and take action against hate and its favorite tool.