Extremism and assault rifles are both enemies


Assault rifles for sale at a Fort Worth gun store
Assault rifles for sale at a Fort Worth gun store Star-Telegram

Both the right and left of the U.S. political divide should be able to agree on at least one thing about the mass shooting early Sunday morning in Orlando that left 49 innocent people dead and 53 wounded:

It is absolute idiocy that we continue to let this happen.

Set aside for the moment the “thoughts and prayers” for victims and survivors offered up by virtually every political figure who comes near a microphone or issues a press statement. Sympathy is important, but it doesn’t steer us toward a solution.

The right, personified by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, holds that the heart of the problem is that we haven’t gotten tough enough on “radical Islamic terrorism.”

The left has been represented by President Barack Obama in a seemingly endless string of statements following such killings — none with death tolls this high, but all tragic.

On Sunday, Obama said the Orlando killings remind us how easy it is to obtain firearms that can be used to kill a lot of innocent people very quickly.

“We have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be,” Obama said.

And in a news conference on Monday, he addressed issues raised by Trump and other Republicans.

Obama said there is no evidence so far that Orlando shooter Omar Mateen was directed by the Islamic State, but he was inspired by extremist information on the internet — making the entire episode “homegrown extremism.”

“And so countering this extremist ideology is increasingly going to be just as important as making sure that we are disrupting more extensive plots engineered from the outside,” Obama said.

Perhaps the president’s most salient point was that our thinking must not be narrow.

“We have to go after these terrorist organizations and hit them hard. We have to counter extremism,” he said. “But we also have to make sure that it is not easy for somebody who decides they want to harm people in this country to be able to obtain weapons to get at them.”

Since 2001, the U.S. has shown its willingness to use military might to fight terrorists overseas. Some people have said we must renew that effort and fight harder.

We have not been willing to fight the other side of the battle that Obama describes, to address the issue of easily obtainable weapons such as the Sig Sauer .221 caliber assault rifle that Mateen bought legally on June 4 and used with such deadly effect Sunday morning.

Obviously, this is hard. But we must fight extremism, foreign and domestic, and control access to such terrible weapons or the killing will continue.