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An Gang
Guns and Politics
Orlando shooting reflects political and social problems in the United States
By An Gang | NO. 26 JUNE 30, 2016

Residents of Orlando, Florida, mourn victims of the June 12 mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in the city (XINHUA)

The deadliest single shooting incident in U.S. history occurred on June 12 when a lone gunman killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in the city of Orlando, Florida.

The incident has once again aroused concerns over deep-rooted social problems in the United States, including gun control, homeland security and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) discrimination. As the U.S. presidential campaign unfolds, the shooting has only added fuel to debates on domestic policies.

Implications

Undoubtedly, gun-related crimes have become a serious public security problem in the United States.

According to New York-based non-profit news organization The Trace, there have been around 23,000 shootings since the beginning of 2016.

However, divisions on gun control are wide in the United States. The public's opinion on this issue can be divided into three groups. Some defend the people's rights to keep and bear arms in accordance with the constitution. Others support the regulation of guns, either moderately or strictly, to reduce crimes and tragedies. For many years, the United States has yet to reach a consensus on gun control legislation.

In a speech after meeting the relatives of the Orlando attack victims on June 16, U.S. President Barack Obama once again called on the Republican-controlled Congress to pass gun control legislation. The president has taken a number of measures to restrict gun purchases since January, after Congress refused to approve the legislation. In view of wide divisions and partisan disputes, it will be hard to make substantial progress on this issue in the short term.

In U.S. politics, the importance of gun control legislation has risen to a new height, closely following the agenda topics of economic recovery, fairness and justice, and immigration. The debate on gun control is closely linked to the U.S. Constitution, reflecting a clash between freedom and control.

The Orlando shooting has also challenged the security of the U.S. homeland. After the September 11 terrorist attack in 2001, the George W. Bush administration took counter-terrorism as the focus of its foreign policy.

In 2009, the Obama administration made adjustments to the counter-terrorism strategy, announcing the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Dealing with the rise of emerging countries such as China subsequently rose to the top of Obama's foreign policy agenda. Later in 2011, Washington declared the Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy, strengthening what appears to be a policy of containment against China.

The shooting provides an opportunity for politicians to examine Obama's adjustment of the counter-terrorism policy.

Although there is no evidence that the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) group directed or had prior knowledge of the Orlando shooting, it is closely related to the attack, as the U.S. gunman Omar Mateen had claimed allegiance to the jihadist group before committing the massacre.

Republican senators such as John McCain have criticized Obama by claiming that the ISIS group was able to grow from Al Qaeda due to the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

"When he pulled everybody out of Iraq, Al Qaeda went to Syria, became ISIS, and ISIS is what it is today thanks to Barack Obama's failures, utter failures, by pulling everybody out of Iraq," McCain said.

The recent tragedy has demonstrated that the United States is not as safe as Washington deems. The current strategy of the retrenchment of troops in the Middle East can neither reduce the terror threats that the United States faces, nor help eradicate terrorism from the world.

Presidential campaign

The Orlando massacre has also heated up the debate on immigration and LGBT discrimination—two other controversial topics in the United States.

The gunman came from an immigrant family, which arouses public concern over loose immigration policy.

According to the Center for Immigration Studies, the population of immigrants in the United States reached 61 million at the end of 2015. The growth of immigrant residents is six times that of the overall U.S. population. Immigration is changing the demographic composition of the country.

Meanwhile, problems related to immigration are making divisions in society. Some support a more relaxed policy on immigration. While others, conservative white voters in particular, urge the government to tighten related procedures.

In U.S. politics, there is a stark contrast on the immigration debate between Democrats and Republicans. Harboring the support of human rights, Democrats are usually inclined to take a tolerant stance on the immigration issue. Take for example, the Democratic Obama administration's adoption of steps to reform the immigration law and relieve restrictions on the naturalization of immigrants. In contrast, Republican lawmakers have strongly opposed Obama's reforms in order to safeguard the interests of their constituents.

Since votes on immigration topics have had an increasing influence on election results, it has also become a hot topic in debates between presidential candidates.

The attack has given Republican candidate Donald Trump a good chance to blow the trumpet of populism in his campaign. He immediately cultivated notoriety as well as support from differing factions by inciting populism and attacking the Obama administration's policies. Trump has repeatedly made vitriolic statements against Muslim and Mexican immigrants. He has even gone so far as to advocate restricting Muslim immigrants from entering the United States as a way to garner votes.

Furthermore, a majority of the victims in the shooting were LGBT people. This angle has also caught the attention of politicians who want to maintain the safety and rights of the LGBT community, which is also an important campaign target for the presidential candidates.

Obama has called on people to reflect on how to end violence and discrimination against LGBT people in the United States and overseas. During Obama's tenure, the United States has approved homosexual marriage, becoming one of 21 countries around the world to have legitimized it. The Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, has also stressed that discrimination against LGBT people violates human rights.

In fact, the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT civil rights advocacy group in the United States, announced at the beginning of the year their support of Clinton in the upcoming election in an attempt to make sure that the rights of the LGBT community won't be harmed by conservatism.

As an anti-homosexual massacre conducted by a religious extremist, the Orlando shooting has undoubtedly hurt the LGBT community deeply. But that doesn't mean that Democrats will win the support of all LGBT voters because some of them may turn to seek safety guarantees from Trump's policies.

Unpredictably

In the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, the United States has had its divisions on key domestic issues exposed. The public has been filled with the sentiment of anger against hypocritical politicians and have expressed disappointment in the government's inability to operate fluidly. This sentiment might be reflected as the presidential campaign goes on. The country continues to be entangled with myriad debates for or against security, freedom, strengthening control and safeguarding rights.

Most observers don't believe that the shooting will have as great an impact on the country as the September 11 attacks did.

On the whole, rational reflection is the mainstream response to the shooting. There is no rash of anti-immigration movements in the United States as a result of the attack. U.S. people are not willing to see the shooting be used by politicians for their own purposes. In his speech on counter-terrorism after the incident, Trump slammed Obama and Clinton, demanding strict limits on Muslim immigrants. But few people bought his words.

The Orlando shooting may even not have the potential to change the election. If the shooting makes conservatives support Trump, who urges a tough policy on immigration, then there will be more minority and LGBT voters backing Clinton. Regardless of the outcome, the presidential election is likely to create further rifts among people in the United States.

The author is an op-ed contributor to Beijing Review and a researcher at the Pangoal Institution

Copyedited by Bryan Michael Galvan

Comments to liuyunyun@bjreview.com

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