By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Days after a gunman shot and killed 49 patrons in a Gay bar in Orlando, Florida, vigils are being held across the country, including Hampton Roads. The crime is being called the nation’s largest mass shooting. Portsmouth became the area’s first city to announce it would host a vigil on Wednesday, June 15 for citizens to gather and remember the victims of the Orlando mass shooting.
“Like the rest of the country, Portsmouth is grieving,” said City Manager Dr. Lydia Patton “We stand together against hatred toward any person or persons based on a group affiliation. We stand with Orlando, with the families of those killed or injured, with the LGBT community, and against violence anywhere. We are united in solidarity. On Sunday night, June 12, the day the tragic shootings took place, about 200 people gathered in the parking lot of local public broadcasting station WHRO to remember the people killed and injured earlier that morning.
On Monday night at ODU, students and the public held a candlelight vigil led by the school’s Gay and lesbian students. The Orlando shooting has refocused attention on the violence against Gay and Lesbian people. June is Gay Pride Month and cities all over the country are seeing Gay pride festivals, including Hampton Roads, at Norfolk’s Town Point Park on Saturday, June 18.
Norfolk police officials are assuring that all steps will be taken to make the event safe for the thousands of participants. The incident has also filtered into the debate between the two presumptive nominees for President and has reopened the debate about gun control and lax gun laws. It is known that the killer, Omar Mateen, 29, purchased the weapons only a few days before the rampage.
Mateen, according to the FBI, was on a terror watch list because co-workers at a security guard firm he worked for, reported extremist statements he was making in 2013. The FBI began watching him, but did not find anything from May 2013 to May 2014. Most of the victims were young Hispanic Gay men, and this has spurred support and unity from the two communities who are emerging with considerable political muscle.
Gay bars, such as the Pulse where the tragedy occurred, have long been targets of hatred and violence over the years. Gay clubs have been not only a place where Gays socialized and partied, but also, they offered safe venues to exercise cultural activities. Gay political and civic activists have been calling for stronger gun restrictions and are watching how the two major political party nominees have responded.
Donald Trump reiterated his call to ban the immigration of Muslims and is claiming President Obama is sympathetic to individuals who are Islamic extremists. Also in a tweet that triggered a backlash , Trump said, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don‘t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!”
It has yet to be determined whether the crime was a hate crime by a “lone wolf “or the action of a terrorist on orders from Isis, as he claimed in a 911 call he placed to police from the club. Democrat Hillary Clinton, who has strong support among LGBT people, said at an event in Cleveland, Ohio, “We must attack it with clear eyes, steady hands, unwavering determination and pride in our country and our values.” Clinton said, “This is a moment when we all need to stand together” and pledged that “we will overcome the threats of terror and radicalization.”
Virginia Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, a vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus’ Gun Violence Prevention Task Force and a member of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, said in a statement, “While details continue to emerge, last night’s shooting is particularly insidious in that it occurred at a prominent gay night club when Americans across the country were gathering to celebrate LGBT Pride Month and the remarkable diversity of our nation.”
The gun shooting massacre in Orlando may give new momentum for a bill sponsored by California’s Dianne Feinstein that will prevent those on a terrorist list from being able to purchase firearms. This legislation failed in the Senate last December, a day after 14 people died in San Bernadino at the hands of a couple who said they were inspired by the Islamic State. The bill calls for the U.S. Attorney General to deny the legal purchase of a gun if that buyer is a known “or appropriately suspected to be, or has been engaged in conduct constituting and preparation for, in aide of, or related to terrorism.”
“Between February of ’04 and December of ’15, on 2,265 occasions, known or suspected terrorists passed a background check to buy a gun,” said Feinstein on a recent conference call. She added that closing the loophole in the current law is just “common sense.”