Opinion » Editorial

Lessons From the Orlando Tragedy

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Readers of this week's issue will note a couple of pieces, including this one, devoted to the unspeakable weekend tragedy in Orlando, in which at least 50 people died during an armed assassin'

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s murderous spree at a gay-oriented night club and another 50-odd were injured, some critically.

There is good reason for such close attention here and on the part of other media, world-wide, and it is similar to that which followed in the wake of the June 2015 slaughter of nine African-American worshippers during a Bible study session at an historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. That previous attack, carried out by a youthful racist obsessed with loyalties to his state's Confederate past, instantly transformed a racial landscape that had been changing all too slowly and greatly accelerated what Martin Luther King once described as the bending of the arc of history toward justice.

Before the Charleston atrocity, the Stars and Bars of the old Confederacy flew unimpeded in dozens of places where they hang no longer — including the state Capitol at Columbia, South Carolina, the very birthplace of secession and the cradle of the Confederacy, that would-be nation of breakaway Southern states devoted to the creed of official racism and the institution of human slavery. 

In a true sense, the young assassin's senseless act, intended by him to ignite a race war on behalf of Confederate ideals, accomplished the exact opposite — the final putting to rest of the Confederacy and its flag as anything but tawdry reminders of a brutal racist past.

In like manner, the savage massacre at Orlando's Pulse Club has surely ended the lingering debate as to whether the quest for rights, equality, and dignity by members of  the LGBT community should be regarded as within the mainstream of the nation's ongoing civil rights struggle. By their martyrdom, the souls sacrificed in Orlando to murderous bigotry have, we pray, propelled that recognition and ended that debate. Gay Americans should now be seen by everyone, as, increasingly, they see themselves — not as outliers seeking toleration but as proud citizens in the forefront of extending liberty.

And, though both the Charleston and Orlando horrors have provoked rethinking the nature and promise of American democracy, they both serve, too, as bleak reminders of a national gun culture run amok. After Jonesboro and Columbine and Sandy Hook and Aurora and so many others, this fresh atrocity is testament to the long overdue need to change the rules for selling and using firearms, especially semiautomatic, combat-like weapons such the AR-15, used for the purpose of mass murder in Orlando and elsewhere. There is no need to expunge the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights, which is what the NRA and other gun-industry lobbyists accuse reformers of trying to do. A good start to setting things right would be the extension of background checks and a resumption of the undeniably Constitutional Clinton-era ban on the sale of such weapons, which was allowed to expire in 2005, during the second presidential term of George W. Bush. It is no accident that the frequency of massacres, as well as their body counts, have increased since that time.


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