Orlando massacre: A terrorist attack made easier by US gun laws
By legally purchasing an assault rifle and a handgun, Mateen was able to carry out the deadliest shooting attack in US history
For members of the LGBTQ community and their friends who gathered on a Saturday night earlier this month, the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, was a sanctuary. For the killer Omar Mateen, it was an easy target.
As the horror unfolded, with 49 souls ultimately lost and scores of other people maimed, it quickly became clear that Mateen carried out a terrorist attack against members of the LGBTQ community on behalf of the ISIS militant group.
Utilizing a strategy encouraged by both ISIS and al-Qaeda, Mateen viciously massacred scores of civilians as a lone actor without ever receiving training from either terrorist faction. By pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a call to 911, ISIS – and al-Qaeda too – were able to glorify the attack despite that their leaders likely had no direct involvement in Mateen’s murderous plan.
By legally purchasing a Sig Sauer .223 caliber assault rifle and a handgun, Mateen was able to carry out the deadliest shooting attack in US history – with ease. Prior to the operation, reports indicate Mateen was investigated by the FBI on terrorism-related suspicions no less than three times.
It is an epic tragedy that we are engaged in a war against groups abroad but are not acting to prevent their supporters from arming themselves on our own soilBrooklyn Middleton
In a press conference, FBI officials even confirmed Mateen had a connection to Moner Mohammad Abusalha, the very first United States national to carry out a suicide bombing attack in Syria on behalf of Jabhat al-Nusra in May 2014. Still, even on the FBI’s radar, Mateen had no issue obtaining firearms.
Following the terrorist attack in Orlando, renewed calls for gun control prompted Democrats to once again attempt to pass legislation that would bar suspects on the government’s terrorism watch list from purchasing guns; so far, efforts have failed.
It is an epic tragedy that we are engaged in a war against groups abroad but are not acting to prevent their supporters from arming themselves on our own soil; to continue allowing such a security risk to be politicized endangers the American people and emboldens terrorists.
Following the attack, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) issued a statement praising the operation and called on its supporters to carry out similar style attacks.
AQAP notes that Mateen “capitalized on the means available at his reach, his machine gun, which he officially owned…This matter always confirms to us that the main problem is not in obtaining the weapon, but is in the conviction, determination and will power to execute such Jihadi operations.”
ISIS, after initially issuing a claim of responsibility for the attack, later published a video titled, “More Effective for Us and More Damaging Upon Them.”
The video reportedly shows ISIS members praising Mateen while also displaying footage of sites in San Francisco and Las Vegas. There is no reason to assess that ISIS is actively plotting to directly target either cities; nonetheless, ISIS is attempting to encourage lone actors like Mateen to strike targets in gay-friendly San Francisco.
Not every act of terrorism can or will be prevented, especially as ISIS and al-Qaeda continue to encourage deadly attacks that require minimum funding or planning. And it is possible that even if Mateen was blocked from obtaining an assault rifle he still would have carried out a massacre.
However, the possibility that we could have made it more difficult for him to do so – but failed to – should haunt us all.
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst currently based in New York City. She has previously written about US President Obama's policy in Syria as well as Bashar al-Assad’s continued crimes against his own people. She recently finished her MA thesis on Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, completing her Master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.