Local leaders in Madison say no community in America is immune from the violence felt early Sunday in Orlando, Florida, where a gunman, claiming allegiance to the Islamic State, killed at least 50 people and wounded 53 in a crowded gay nightclub.
“Once again, the proliferation of weapons has led to mass murder,” said Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, maintaining that this type of violence is what happens in a country where the National Rifle Association “lies and deceives” the American people into believing that the country is safer when automatic weapons are freely available.
“With the availability of weapons that allow one person to kill dozens and dozens of people, there’s no city in this country that is 100 percent immune from disaster,” Soglin said. “We can do our best to be aware and prepared, but as long as the NRA controls the Congress and the state legislature, no one is safe.”
What happened in Orlando is now the worst mass shooting in American history, and the gunman, identified as Omar Mateen, 29, had been investigated three times by the FBI, for making inflammatory remarks to co-workers and possible connections to the Islamic State. Mateen, who died in a shootout with police, was an American citizen whose parents were from Afghanistan.
Madison Police Chief Mike Koval traced the increased frequency of mass murders back to the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. The FBI defines mass murder as the killing or attempted killing of four or more people in a single incident, and Koval said the cyclical average in the United States has been increasing to the point where there is a mass murder every 16 or so days.
“It is clear that whether it is a school, a mall, a house of worship or any of those public gathering spaces or places, that we have literally seen this manifestation everywhere. No area is immune,” Koval said.
Given the proliferation of mass murders, those who work in policing are constantly having to review how they respond to active shooters, particularly how to coordinate with other law enforcement agencies in the area, he said.
In Orlando, Mayor Buddy Dyer declared a “state of emergency” and Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who was at the scene, extended it to the whole county.
Such situations call for a sharing of resources at the federal, state, county and municipal levels, Koval said. The Orlando massacre once again highlights the local need for the MPD to constantly coordinate with Dane County Emergency Management, and to work with the Dane County Chiefs of Police in creating protocols and compacts for events like this, he said.
“The worst thing that we can do is sort of rationalize, discount, or minimize that such a tragic occurrence could never occur in a place like Madison, like somehow we could be immune from that,” Koval said. “I think that’s obviously dangerous and irresponsible in terms of getting ready for preparedness and management for such a terrible ordeal such as they are dealing with in Orlando.”
Madison resident Callen Harty organized a vigil to honor the victims of the Orlando shooting Sunday at the top of State Street. It’s the third such vigil he’s organized at the Capitol. He also held vigils in 2012 after a shooting at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, and after the massacre later that year at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
“It keeps happening and we’re not doing anything about the reasons behind that,” said Harty, an actor, author, LGBT activist, and the former artistic director of Broom Street Theater.
He’s been a pacifist since he was a child and he’s also a gay man, so this one hits “really close to home,” he said. “It’s also the worst one in our history. Each one keeps getting bigger and we keep setting records. I want to see us stop setting these records.”
Harty said that although he supports the Second Amendment right to bear arms, he doesn’t think the Constitution allows for ordinary citizens to own military-style weapons. He likened it to people being allowed to have tanks or nuclear missiles. “I don’t see why people should have weapons of mass assault like that,” he said.
UW Police Chief Sue Riseling called the Orlando shooting “an affront to anyone who is an American, regardless of your sexual orientation or your race, creed, color or whatever.”
Riseling being a lesbian didn’t make it any more personal, she said. “This is just pure hate of Western culture and it’s just pure hate of Americans. It could have been any place in the United States and it could have been any target.”
It’s the same hatred the country saw in San Bernardino, California, last year when 14 people were killed and 22 were seriously injured in a terrorist attack at an office holiday party, Riseling said. It’s the same hatred the country saw in 2013 with the Boston Marathon bombing, also a terrorist attack, she said.
“I don’t think the Boston bombers hated marathon runners,” she said. “I don’t necessarily think the San Bernardino (couple) just hated his co-workers. This is just another affront to the United States and to our way of life, and it just so happens it was in a gay nightclub.”
This Orlando shooter obviously had issues with homosexuals, Riseling said, but more than that, he had issues with America.
“If he pledges allegiance to ISIS as they have been reporting, that’s an affront to America, that’s not an affront to any sub-population of the United States,” Riseling said.
On her Facebook page, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, the first openly gay person elected to the Senate, called the Orlando shooting “a historic tragedy.”
“As we offer our thoughts and prayers, we also must come to terms with the fact that they are not enough,” she said.
“This was not only a horrific attack on the LGBT community, it was an attack on the freedoms we all hold dear,” Baldwin said. “The question now for America is are we going to come together and stand united against hate, gun violence and terrorism? I understand it may not be easy, but I know we are better than this and it is past time to act together.”
Koval said that since the mass shooting in San Bernardino, his department has had more requests to consult with various government groups and schools, and they’ve been doing more training than ever. In Orlando, what started as an active shooter situation morphed into a hostage situation, he noted, and those two situations require different responses. So the responding officers need to have different training for each.
Many communities have shown understandable pushback for what they consider the militarization of the police, Koval said. But what happened in Orlando shows that law enforcement agencies need to have special training and equipment to negate an active threat, he said.
“You can’t be blithely naive to assume that it couldn’t happen here, so you have to prepare and train and equip for those,” Koval said.
Added Riseling, “If anyone who’s an American is not totally disgusted by this act, that makes me very sad because it just happened (at a gay nightclub) this time. Where’s it going to be next time?”