Evan Katz

What drives me insane about any act of violence in this country is the need for both sides of the aisle to politicize the situation, either as it’s going on or immediately after, without knowing the full story. Before any facts came out of Fort Lauderdale, people on the Left were already blaming yesterday’s shooting on weak gun laws while those on the Right found a way to blame Muslims despite not knowing anything about the shooter.

So far, all we know is that Esteban Santiago killed five people while shooting at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport and wounded eight more. We don’t yet know his motive. He grew up in Puerto Rico, served in the National Guard, was deployed to Iraq, and has a girlfriend and child in Alaska. Reports are coming out that he had been undergoing psychological treatment for some mental illness and that he told the FBI that he had been hearing “voices” that told him to join ISIS. That’s about all I can find from any reputable news sources.

What the Left hears from that synopsis is that someone with a mental illness was able to obtain a gun and kill innocent civilians, something that stricter firearm regulations and background checks could have prevented. First of all, we don’t know the extent of Santiago’s mental illness, or if the psychological treatment he was receiving would have barred him from purchasing a firearm in the first place. Second, if Santiago were so intent on committing an act of violence and indiscriminately shooting at innocent civilians, I’m not so sure the law would have stopped him from getting a gun on the black market. Of course, this isn’t to say that all gun regulations are bad or ineffective; maybe a background check would have raised red flags and prevented Santiago from getting a gun. And, to address the gun-free zone argument, I doubt that a law-abiding citizen carrying a gun would have been able to react quickly enough to neutralize Santiago before he killed those civilians (and that law-abiding citizen quite possibly could have caused more deaths). But simply claiming that tighter gun control would have prevented this and any other gun-related atrocity without knowing the full story ignores the specifics of the situation.

What the Right hears from the above synopsis is that someone with a possible connection to ISIS committed an act of terror on American soil. Clearly that means all Muslims are at fault, that ISIS is an existential threat, and that Democrats and President Obama aren’t doing enough to combat terrorism, right? I mean, why won’t the president label our enemy and call it “radical Islam” (read the comments section on the Breitbart post covering the shooting)? Look, as far as we know, this shooting had nothing to do with ISIS whatsoever, and Santiago had no direct connection to the terrorist organization. Labeling it “radical Islam” not only fails to make the threat go away, but also feeds into the idea that all Muslims are violent, fueling further Islamophobia and discrimination. And the logic behind calling for “extreme vetting” and a ban on Muslim immigration is the very same logic that the Right claims the Left uses to justify gun control (one instance of violence justifies banning the whole thing), not to mention that the idea of an immigration ban targeting people of a specific religious background is both unconstitutional and horrifically xenophobic.

I hate that these individuals’ deaths get commodified by both sides to advance an agenda. These were real people with real lives, families, friends, communities, and jobs, and their deaths will affect countless people. That ultimately gets lost in the political firestorm as everyone tries to stick it to the other side. A college counselor from the high school Sam and I attended was actually saved by his laptop from a bullet (luckily he’s okay); I can only imagine what that whole community would be feeling if the laptop weren’t there and he had been hit.

I really wish people would wait to learn more about these situations before jumping to any conclusions and using those to further some political goal, whatever it may be. It’s really a shame.