After a long, arduous trek from Roncesvalles to Zubiri, Spain, I logged online only to hear the breaking news of a mass shooting at the gay bar, Pulse, in Orlando, Florida. By the time I left for dinner in the hotel's restaurant, the death toll had been confirmed at 50 and counting, with 53 injured. A third of the bar's occupants were gunned down.
I broke my sabbatical pledge not to be online in public, needing to find out more, reading the stunned, outraged, grieving posts of my friends on Facebook, wiping away the tears that fell silently down my face as the news sank in.
Now we have learned that the man responsible, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, claimed allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 call he made at the time of the attack.
It's a somewhat new and devious ploy engaged by Daesh [also known as ISIL and ISIS], making it possible for anyone to suddenly claim terrorist status, who may not be officially affiliated with their group, and thus not on the radar of any nation's security surveillance.
And certainly, hatred and killing of those who are LGBTQ or suspected to be is a hallmark of Daesh and its supporters; indeed, in some ways, Daesh is simply a larger, more violent group built with the blueprints of Westboro Baptist Church, seeking attention by hating just about anyone that will get their name in the paper. One of Westboro's more charming websites, although it appears to be defunct now, was godhatessweden.com. Its home page is godhatesfags.com.
But allegiance to a militant, sociopathic group alone is not responsible for this tragedy. Mateen, we are told, bought his guns and ammo legally. This should not come as a surprise to any of us. In virtually all of the recent mass shootings, whether or not they were politically motivated, all of the guns were bought legally by the assailants, or by their family members or friends.
It we are going to call this an act of terror — and surely it was — we need to also implicate the NRA, the American gun manufacturers, the lobbyists and the politicians who continue, in the face of calamitous tragedy, to be a pipeline for terrorist acts by their insistence on allowing weapons of war to be accessible to any person who is mentally ill, politically unstable, or merely harbors a momentary grudge against another theater-goer.
If we are going to demand swift retribution against those who would spill blood on American soil for any reason, we need to begin to demand retribution from those who supply the arms and weapons used in these terrorist attacks.
The fact that Mateen pledged allegiance to Daesh and gunned down over a hundred people who were presumably members of the LGBTQ community, or our allies... the fact that the shooter said he hoped to disrupt Gay Pride Month festivities, is horrific, and a sign that, despite recent legal victories for the queer communities, hatred and bigotry still run deep. But the real tragedy is that we, as a nation, once again have allowed a hater to do unspeakable damage... that those whose addiction to guns and weapons of war feel that their illness takes precedence over our safety can put another 50 notches on their collective gun barrel of destruction that is inexorably killing us all.
This newest mass shooting has the largest death toll in modern American history. But that title won't last for long, not as long as we continue to turn a blind eye, to swallow the lie that guns don't kill people, people do. Actually, guns do kill people. We've seen it over and over again.
When I posted the first blog about my Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, I spoke of the cruelty of human violence in comparison to the elegance of the violence that happens in nature — a golden eagle bearing down on a trembling rabbit.
A friend posted a comment that she thought it was odd that I would choose to reflect on violence at the start of a peaceful pilgrimage.
She was right, I suppose, but maybe I had been influenced by the last post I had written in my blog, months earlier, which contained the text of my sermon on the epidemic of gun violence in our country.
Six months later, here we are again. Five thousand miles away, I cannot escape the violence humans do to one another — in a bar in Florida, in the gun lobbyists' offices, in the manufacturing plants that create and supply these weapons of mass destruction.
Today, with the rest of you, I will grieve the unnecessary loss of human life.
Tomorrow, I will continue to work for sane gun laws in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, this will be one act of terror that calls us to account, this will go down in history as the mass shooting with the highest death toll because we will have enacted laws that prevent the possibility of this happening ever again.
This is not a pipe dream; sane gun laws have essentially stopped mass shootings in other countries. All it takes is all of us demanding it.
Nori Rost, minister of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Colorado Springs, is currently in the midst of a sabbatical including a 500-mile pilgrimage to Spain's El Camino de Santiago. You can find our cover interview with her here, as well as daily updates on her journey, including the above essay, at revrost.blogspot.com.