17

Gays on the Front Line

PARIS – The mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, last weekend has so far claimed 50 lives (including the killer), with more than 50 others wounded – some seriously. It has also left at least three questions to be answered.

First, there is the issue of the easy availability of weapons of war across most of the United States. It is estimated that several million AR-15 semiautomatic rifles (the type used in the Orlando killings and by US soldiers in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) are in circulation in the US. In most US states, the criteria for obtaining one are to be at least 18 years of age (three years lower than the drinking age) and have no criminal record or obvious manifestation of mental illness.

A majority of Americans consider possession of such weapons a basic right, defined and codified by the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. Indeed, Americans, having been told for decades by Charlton Heston, Wayne LaPierre, and other leaders of the all-powerful National Rifle Association that there is no better way to protect oneself and one’s family, now own more than 300 million firearms.

President Barack Obama has said and repeated what reasonable Americans understand: the stockpile of assault weapons – small in size but massive in their destructiveness – in private hands constitutes an invisible but legal arsenal. It is a time bomb of which everyone is aware. Given its ubiquity, the question is not whether there will be other killings similar to the one in Orlando. That there will be is a foregone conclusion. The question, alas, is when and where.