On Sunday June 12 at 2.02am Omar Mateen walked into Pulse nightclub and opened fire into the crowd. Within moments dozens would be dead, and by morning, the Orlando nighclub would be awash with blood, the death toll climbing to 50, including Mateen.
In the week since the Orlando shooting, troubling questions have been raised about Mateen’s links to ISIS; the role of his wife in the attack and the motives behind the shooting.
However, there is one question that many of us who do not live in the US find particularly incomprehensible: how is it possible that Mateen – a man who was known to the FBI and even interviewed by them three times – came to legally access a semi-automatic weapon?
In the US the simple fact is that anyone aged over 18 is allowed to own or carry a gun. If you’re over 21, you can carry a handgun.
Specifics vary between states – some don’t allow assault rifles; others require gun owners to register their weapons with police. But, worldwide, the laws are considered relatively lax.
No one has put the issue in perspective better than The Examiner, which produced a piece in 2013 that drew a parallel between gun laws and abortion laws – and which recently went viral.
The op-ed piece, by William Hamby, asks: What if Gun Control Laws were like Abortion Laws?
Only one store in the entire state would sell guns. (See: Mississippi, Arkansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming for states with only one abortion provider.)
You'd have to fill out an enormous personal background check including intrusive personal information that has nothing to do with your ability to own or use a gun. Then you'd have to wait at least 72 hours and come back to the store. (Remember, it's the only one in the state. You better hope you don't live on the other side of Wyoming.)
If you lived in Virginia, you'd have to come back (again) for an invasive and uncomfortable fMRI (which costs around $300 out of your pocket) to ensure your honesty in answering all the background check information and your intentions to use your gun responsibly. (This was as close as I could get to the invasive transvaginal procedure included in the recently passed Virginia bill.)
Oh... and if you were married, your spouse might have to sign off on your gun ownership.
Depressing isn’t it?
Yet change is possible. Last week a filibuster led by Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy forced the issue into the Senate. As a result, this week, there will be a vote in the Senate on gun control issues.
It’s unlikely a bill will be passed, but with election tensions ramping up, Murphy’s 14-hour filibuster has at least thrown the issue into the political spotlight and made it an election issue. So there’s hope. Just.
(Want more? We love this #throwback West Wing clip about gun control.)