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On Saturday night, 49 people died and over 50 more were injured for the "crime" of being LGBQT, out having fun on the town in a space filled with racially diverse attendees celebrating Latin Night. It was a horrific and wrenching act of violence, and as always happens when guns are in the new cycle, it's being followed by a renewed plea for actual gun control in America.
Looking exhausted and dismayed, President Obama told the public on Sunday morning that: "This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well."
There's a familiar chain of events that follows in the wake of mass shootings, and one of the most sinister links is a sharp uptick in gun sales. We saw it after Sandy Hook, after San Bernardino, and after so many other cases of rampage violence — in fact, the New York Times took a close look at gun sales trends between 2000 and 2016, generating a horrifyingly compelling graph showing a stark correlation between shootings and rushes to gun dealers.
People often make the claim that they're buying guns "for self protection," as though there's any possible setting in which a civilian would need an assault weapon designed for killing high volumes of people very quickly. Some like to argue that they're buying weapons for hunting and sport — personally, I don't use an AR-15 to shoot deer, but maybe I've been doing it wrong.
The real reason people surge to gun stores is that they're afraid someone is going to come take their guns away. They're responding to the public's cries for actual gun control by racing out to buy all the weapons they can get their hands on, convinced that they're going to be barred from the market.
That fear has yet to be supported by actual fact, though. Take the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013, brought to Congress by Senator Diane Feinstein, a Democrat from California shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting.
One of the weapons included in the proposed ban was the AR-15, the same weapon used at Pulse on Saturday night. Had Congress passed the ban, it's possible that 49 people wouldn't be dead today, that dozens more wouldn't be hospitalized, some critical, others facing newly acquired disabilities as well as post traumatic stress disorder and other psychological aftereffects associated with mass shootings.
Yet, the gun lobby and conservatives have convinced people that they're entitled to individual gun rights, and that liberals are coming for their guns. As a consequence, it's not just gun sales that spike: It's also stock in gun companies, which has risen steadily over the last few years. Both Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Co. experienced share jumps of nearly 10 percent on Monday — the first day of trading after the shooting. Shares in both firms rose over 70 percent during 2015, a year that saw horrific gun violence at home and abroad, particularly in Paris.
Stock in gun companies is such a good bet that advisors recommend it to people looking for stable, high-performing investments. In fact, it's such a great investment that numerous pension funds and mutual funds take advantage of it — including the very same fund that President Obama has shares in as a result of his time in the Illinois Assembly. Yes, even President Obama owns stock in the weapons industry. It performs better than most tech companies.
The gun industry loves mass shootings. Michael Fifer, Sturm, Ruger and Co.'s CEO, said as much during an annual meeting, noting that they offer an "opportunity" to move stock. There's nothing better for the gun industry than the vague threat of gun control, the risk that some guns might be excluded from the market altogether or heavily restricted.
The gun lobby, especially groups like the NRA, leans hard on the notion that the government is coming for your guns. However, it knows full well that the probability of that actually happening is next to nil, for the simple reason that it owns Congress.
In 2013, the year after Sandy Hook, the gun lobby paid out nearly $16 million to keep Congress in its pocket. The vast majority of that money went to Republicans.
$159,856 in gun lobby money from 2015-2016.
$70,531 in gun lobby money from 2015-2016. One day before the shooting, he tweeted this:
$44,480 in gun lobby money from 2015-2016.
Over a political lifetime, these sums add up.
With Congress dominated by gun money, it's unsurprising that the legislature appears physically incapable of passing gun control. Even reasonable restrictions, like ensuring that people on the terror watchlist cannot buy weapons, are too much for Congress to bear. It can, however, manage to block gun violence research at the CDC.
Gun violence is an undeniable public health crisis, but the U.S. agency charged with addressing public health matters is powerless to do anything about it. Being against gun violence research is like being against cancer research, or vaccines, or any other medical research and innovation designed to reduce suffering and improve quality of life. Over 108,000 people are shot annually, and over 35,000 die. We should be talking about why and how to stop it.
Instead of treating gun violence like the crisis that it is, however, Congress repeatedly turns the other cheek. After years of horrific mass shootings followed by no meaningful action, you'd think that the right would have come to the realization that its guns are unlikely to be taken from them, but evidently not. Instead, gun dealers are enjoying excellent job security via propaganda about Congressional plans to assault "gun rights."
This is the country that we live in. The bodies of our dead, surrounded by their ringing cellphones, can sit in a nightclub for hours while investigators pick their way through the building. Children are massacred in their schools. A movie theater erupts in gunfire. A Congresswoman is shot in the head.
And the response to all these things is not more aggressive gun control, but a run on guns and a windfall for shareholders in gun companies.