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All of us must bear responsibility for Orlando

People held a vigil outside the Orlando Regional Medical Center Sunday.GREGG NEWTON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Over the next several days we’ll hear a lot of talk about Sunday’s mass shooting in Orlando. We’ll hear speculation about the assailant’s motive — was he driven by anti-gay animus or allegiance to the Islamic State? We’ll hear about better mental health screening and, unfortunately, plenty of anti-Muslim bigotry. Politicians will offer their usual “thoughts and prayers” to the victims via social media.

But here’s all you really need to know about what is now the deadliest mass shooting in American history — that a single American citizen, armed with a legally purchased assault rifle (the same type of rifle used in the Sandy Hook and Aurora massacres) shot 103 people in a nightclub, killing 50 of them. One person, one gun. Fifty lives gone, and hundreds more injured and permanently traumatized.


This is the type of killing that could happen anywhere in America. The shooter could be Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Catholic, Hindu, or atheist, motivated by intolerance, religious zealotry, mental disorder, or simply blind rage. For the LGBT community — as was the case for African-Americans after the shooting of nine black Americans in a black church in Charleston a year ago — the motive for these crimes is not an abstraction. It’s a horrific reminder of the intolerance, discrimination, and fear of violence, which is a fact of life for far too many gay and transgender Americans. Mass shootings perpetrated on vulnerable and historically discriminated against individuals are no more awful than any other mass shooting, but when the choice of targets is not random it’s a reminder of the specific and unique threat that these communities face.

Still, we cannot legislate away hatred or violent impulses to stop mass shootings. What we can do is stop people filled with hate and intent on committing violence from the tools — guns — that allow them to spread such carnage. And we’ve failed.


We failed the children who died in Newtown. The moviegoers in Aurora. The students and teachers at Virginia Tech. The co-workers in San Bernardino. The young people shot down in Chicago and Baltimore. The suicide victims who will never get a second chance. And those slain in mass shootings that happen every single day in America. Today, we have failed the 50 people who went out for the evening in Orlando and will never come home. We failed their fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends and loved ones.

Some will pin the blame on the National Rifle Association and its water carriers in Congress and state legislatures around America. They are certainly deserving of our opprobrium and scorn. Republicans around the country — with the help of a few Democrats — have consistently and flagrantly blocked even modest gun control efforts, which may not have stopped this mass shooting but certainly could have stopped many others.

Yet, as I’ve written on these pages more times than I care to remember, all of us must bear responsibility. This is the America we have, as a nation, chosen to live in — one in which mass shootings are a regular, depressing occurrence, and nothing is done to stop them. Those Americans who oppose the NRA’s pro-gun agenda, those who believe gun control measures are necessary and urgent have political power, too. Orlando is yet another awful, heartbreaking reminder that the time has come to use it.


Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.