AS250: Thinking Clearly on Orlando

In a world of knee jerk reactions and the desire for easy scapegoats, I hope to bring you some balanced analysis on the shooting. Many different contributing factors coalesce here – Islam, homophobia, homophobia in Christianity, gun control, masculinity. What are we to make of all these? Well, listen in and I hope we can both think more rationally about these things. Here are some articles discussed:

Economist on why AR is assault weapon

Why I Blame Christians

Muhammad Syed

Vox on terrorist attacks, 80% non-Muslim


16 thoughts on “AS250: Thinking Clearly on Orlando”

  1. I agree with what you said about “not representing” Islam. I think atheists do a poor job generalizing religions. I don’t accept anything as “true Islam”, so even if someone points to a horrible verse in the Quran, I don’t see it as representative of all of Islam. Same with Christianity. I find being a fundamentalist and a liberal Christian just as arbitrary, neither are a “true Christian”. Both rely on false assumptions. A religion is more of a cluster or a distribution of ideas that tend to be lumped together, and a religious person can be found somewhere within that cluster, but you’ll never get 100% agreement between two believers on everything.

    That’s not to divorce homophobia or violence from Islam. Those ideas definitely fall well within that cluster and should be attacked and challenged as such. If we got rid of Islam as an ideology, we would see a notable reduction in Islamophobia. Just as if we got rid of American classical conservatism, we’d see a massive reduction in Christian dominionism in an organized form.

    1. Derp. Insert homophobia instead of Islamophobia. Though if we were able to rid the world of Islam, I think in a sense anti-Muslim bigotry would vanish as well.

  2. I think it’s important to recognize that a lot of activists choose to speak to one issue not because they believe addressing it would solve all the problems, or that all social problems can be traced back to a single ideology, but because successfully advocating for social change requires focus.

    During yesterday’s senate filibuster, I wrote to my representatives and encouraged them to support the proposed gun-control legislation (i.e., requiring background checks for online and gun-show sales, and to ban individuals on watchlists from purchasing guns). Personally, I’m in favor of far more extensive gun-control, but in this moment, I chose to focus on this legislation, because it has potential to make some positive change.

    I see the value in taking time to consider as many factors as possible, and to avoid settling on one explanation while excluding other potentially relevant factors. At the same time, not every article is best read as an exhaustive summation of the available evidence. An opinion piece on the culpability of homophobia in western culture, which omits any reference to homophobia in Islam, doesn’t need to be read as a defense of Islam. A feminist Youtube video linking violence to toxic masculinity doesn’t intrinsically exonerate congress for failing to establish comprehensive gun-control.

    Additionally, there’s almost certainly some aspect of “responding to other narratives” in these articles. For instance, the article mentioned in the episode about Christianity bearing some blame for this shooting could have been written in response to Christians feeling vindicated to learn that the shooter wasn’t “one of them,” and as such, they can just keep on doing what they do. To say Christians bear some responsibility is to say Americans have built a society in which LGBTQI individuals are more likely to be the victimized, where the shooter’s beliefs about the immorality of homosexuality are validated by media and government officials, and where the representatives most supported by Christians are the most active in weakening gun-control laws, allowing mass shooters to legally acquire their weapons.

    Also, in response to your feeling taken aback by a recent discussion about firearms, I don’t understand why it matters that guns have vague and ambiguous definitions (e.g., “assault weapon”). This is a distraction. In the same way that SUV’s are classified as “light trucks,” Marvel’s X-Men toys are classified as “non-human,” and Scientology is classified as a religion, the goal is to skirt regulation. If the law establishes a definition that corresponds to some functional aspect of the weapon, it won’t matter if their AR-15s look like Red Ryder BB guns.

  3. Just felt like I had to comment on the gun issues brought up on this episode, I’m no expert but I do own several and enjoy hunting with them. First off on the issue of assault rifles I agree that the definition is mostly cosmetic. The only difference between a scary AR-15 and your standard semi-auto hunting rifle are the black plastic and the extra pistol grips, both would be equally deadly. The main factor in it’s deadliness is the fact that it’s semi-automatic. I do disagree with Thomas’s notion that these rifle type weapons are more dangerous than a pistol. Rifles are designed to be lethal at a distance, they are meant for ranges of 50-100 yrds or greater. At closer ranges the length of the barrel is a downside to quick aiming and the greater accuracy provided by the barrel is not needed. I think the reason that mass shooters in America use these guns is mainly due to the mystique they’ve acquired in the culture. A semi-auto pistol with a large capacity magazine is the most dangerous weapon in the situations most mass shootings take place. If I were in charge of American gun policy(which as a Canadian seems unlikely) I would limit magazines to 4-5 shots and no more semi-automatics. Also on the subject of semi-auto it’s not as prevalent as Thomas thinks, at least in rifles. Semi-automatics are expensive making most hunters choose more reliable bolt action guns. I think it’s only with pistols where semi-auto is the norm.
    I will agree with Thomas on another point, there is something “special” about America and it’s attitude to violence. It is almost as if Americans are more likely to see violence as a way to solve a problem than other western countries(not that we’re perfect just slightly better).

  4. I found this podcast insightful, but one big thing you kind of glossed over was the issue toxic masculinity.
    To be frank, it is so ingrained in our culture that it just seems like normalcy and is hardly recognized, let alone questioned. It is such a deep seated cause of inequality, suffering, and violence that it is hard to recognize, and we instead see it’s secondary causes such as toxic religion. Where does toxic religion come from? Toxic masculinity. Same with sexual purity obsession and lack of respect for women’s bodily autonomy, denigration of sex ed and the general lack of understanding about sexual consent. If women ‘belong’ to men (as we did for millenia), then concent and autonomy cannot compute. Masculine supremacy is part of the air we breathe, and is guaranteed to be toxic to some degree, because people like power, and will fight to gain/retain it. We need to bring this issue to the forefront, as rape culture and domestic violence are proven feeders for greater violence such as mass killing. If our society took DV seriously, the Orlando killer would be in the justice system now, instead of dead with all his other victims. After all, he beat both his wives, but he died with a clean record.

  5. One way to determine the relative deadliness of weapons is to talk to some Navy Seals or some military couriers or special ops guys and see what kind of weapons a person who is likely to have to use weapons wants to have with them. These folks generally talk in terms of “stopping power.” The folks I used to work with wanted an M16 (essentially a fully automatic AR15) for situations within a hundred yards or so. For close in, they liked a certain Benelli semi-automatic shotgun. Their sidearms, semi-automatic pistols, were sort of last-resort backup weapons.

    The best approach to gun-sanity is to read the first clause of the second amendment, the “A well regulated militia . . .” part. Everyone who wants to own a gun should be able to do so by joining a citizens branch of the National Guard where they receive a license for a given type of weapon AFTER they have had about six months of evening and weekend training similar to the training given soldiers and police officers. Along with the firearms training, the applicants would also receive psychological evaluations and background checks similar to those given to soldiers and police officers. This would eliminate 95%, maybe 99%, of these random asshole incidents. How many of the shooters in the worst mass-murders in the US could have gotten through a psych eval AND a thorough background check? Close to none. I don’t seriously believe this system will ever be instituted, but there it is folks, right there in the God-given Second Amendment: “A well REGULATED militia . . .”

    1. Training and background checks would be a great start, but I do feel the need to point out that mass shooting incidents have been committed by active duty soldiers, former military, and law enforcement officers (e.g., Fort Hood 2009, Bradley William Stone 2014, Woo Bum-kon 1982).

      And that’s not even mentioning those shootings which occur on-duty (e.g., police shot 9 bystanders responding to a gunman at the Empire State Building in 2012), the shooting of unarmed individuals, and the institutional bias that results in people of color being more likely to be perceived as threatening and, as a result, responded to with deadly force.

      1. Are you going to take guns away from the cops and the military? Right.

        OK, lets just say training and screening would prevent 92.5% of the random asshole incidents. So, no, training and screening probably won’t stop everything, but are we holding out for a perfect solution before we commit to doing anything at all? Yes, we probably are and that’s probably why we will never have a solution at all.

        I should also say that to belong to the National Militia you would have to re-qualify every two years. And you have to pay for the training, screening and re-qualification. And yes I know it won’t happen in our lifetimes.

        We, as a society, love living in the Wild West. This week in New Mexico we had a guy shoot and kill another guy while stealing his car and then get shot dead himself by the police a couple of hours later. A guy in Roswell shot and killed his wife and four daughters (preschool to teenaged) and then disappeared. The answer they say is more guns, not less. See, if that guy’s four year-old had had a Glock of her own, she could have put a bullet between Daddy’s eyes before he killed her. These shootings made the news because they were horrific or exciting (high speed chase and all). Two more were reported as “man found dead of apparent gunshot wound in northeast heights.”

        This is life in the US and this is the way we, as a society, like it and we are NOT going to do anything to change it.

  6. The connection you can’t seem to find is that people equate Obama’s unwillingness to call it Islamic terrorism with an inability to understand what the actual problem is, and therefor an inability to come up with solutions. The way they see it at least Trump knows what the problem is even if they might think his solutions go to far. Thomas if the ignorant masses looked in depth at actual policies, no one would be voting for Trump.

    1. I know it’s been said before, but people don’t like Trump’s policies—no one even knows what they are, including Trump—they like his attitude, which speaks more to their ignorance than his, but there’s gobs and gobs of ignorance to go around this time.

      1. “I know it’s been said before, but people don’t like Trump’s policies—no one even knows what they are, including Trump—they like his attitude, which speaks more to their ignorance than his, but there’s gobs and gobs of ignorance to go around this time.”

        Yes. Thomas underestimates that ignorance when he finds it hard to imagine that people would support Trump simply because he says fuck you to what they perceive to be PC culture. and consider a big problem.

  7. I wanted to expand a bit on your point at the end about not being able to buy a gun being a minor inconvenience. I don’t know that anyone could say it’s a greater inconvenience than not being able to get on an airplane, something that could destroy your livelihood if travel is necessary for your job.

  8. Love the podcast! Interesting listening and wanted to give a view on US gun control from someone in the UK. I also work as a medic.

    While atheists talk about religious indoctrination it appears that the US has a problem with a gun culture indoctrination which has bred since your country was founded. US citizens seem to have always been indoctrinated with fear (of invasion/attack) – native Americans, the British, the Government, the communists, Al Qaeda, ISIS, each other etc. There is now a nation which has the ‘right’ to own high powered weapons, which were designed for trained military use, in the hands of (mostly) untrained civilians. Add to this that every time a tragedy, such as Orlando, occurs and the right wing enforces the indoctrination that more guns are needed to ‘protect’ you.
    In 2016 the US, a country that out spends the rest of the world by billions on it’s military, is not going to be invaded. Has any terrorist attack or multi casualty shooting been halted by a civilian with a gun? So is gun control possible in a country so saturated with weapons and indoctrinated with fear? Maybe – but slowly. As with religious indoctrination it may take several generations before the fear is removed and it will require a bold government, with politicians who would put the need for this change ahead of their own career, to impose change (as the Australians did in 1996). It will require the people to have trust in their government and police to protect them rather than taking matters into their own hands.
    From my own naive UK opinion I wouldn’t be so bold as to try to make suggestions of how to impose control without fear of backlash of how I don’t know what I’m talking about. However, I would suggest that the fear has bred from the feeling that ‘they may have a gun so I need one to protect myself’ mentality. Remove the guns and this mentality subsides.

    As a medic I have a good theoretical understanding of the damage firearms can cause but freely admit that, as I live in the UK, I have very little first hand knowledge of treating gun shot wounds. However, I do know that a bullet with more energy can do more damage. Its total kinetic energy is equal to one-half the mass of the bullet times its velocity squared. The bullet from a handgun is—as absurd as it may sound—slow compared to that from an AR-15. However, a handgun is still lethal and more than suitable for ‘protection/self defence’ so why the need for these high powered rifles to be freely available, with minimal background checks, to civilians?
    Will removal of high powered assault weapons reduce the amount of crime? Probably not but it will reduce the number of deaths.

    1. You’re right. The projectile emitted by an AR15 or similar weapon is fairly small, but it is supersonic and imparts a tremendous amount of energy to the target. The bullets are designed to tumble upon impact, shredding flesh and bone in an attempt to effectively “stop” an adversary, which at close range generally results in death or permanent disability.

      If gun ownership required a thorough background check and a psychological evaluation, We would be more than half way to a safer, saner country. In the course of my career, I had to undergo clearance investigations more than once to prove that I could be trusted with classified information. They talked to my family, my neighbors, my coworkers and I had to fill in twenty-odd page personal history form. Effective screening is possible if it’s important enough to us.

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