The proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the Orlando terrorist attack may well be an 800-pound gorilla.
Politicians and lawmakers of all stripes are apoplectic in their efforts to assign blame for the massacre.
It’s ISIS. It’s firearms. It’s radical Islam. It’s lone-wolves. It’s homophobia. It’s homophobia in Islam. It’s self-loathing. It’s Latino racism. It’s gun laws. It’s mental health. It’s the House of Representatives barring anti-LGBT amendments on spending bills. It’s the Republicans! It’s the Democrats! It’s President Obama! It’s Donald Trump! See, Trump is right about the Muslim ban!! No, you dummy. Mateen was born in Queens, just like Trump!!
Those are the 800-pound gorillas.
And that leads us to a gorilla in Cincinnati. Specifically a dead, 440-pound, Western Lowland gorilla named Harambe. Cincinnati zookeepers made a harrowing decision to shoot and kill Harambe a few weeks ago after a 3-year-old child bolted over a rail, under wires and negotiated a moat to make it into the gorilla’s enclosure.
Harambe then dragged the toddler by his arm through the water before zoo officials ordered sharpshooters to kill Harambe.
Debate raged over the incident.
The parents should keep better track of their kid. The zoo should have better fencing. The child was in danger, so killing Harambe was the only option. The child wasn’t in danger so they should have left Harambe alone. Shooting the gorilla was the only thing they could do. The parents should be charged. Why do we have zoos anyway? Zoos are terrible places. The parents are awful for taking their kids to a rotten joint like a zoo that hems in wild animals.
Everyone and everything is at fault depending on your own, personalized 800-pound gorilla.
These are the parallels between the Orlando nightclub slaughter and the decision to kill Harambe. Everyone runs to their respective corners to assign motive and cast aspersions.
It’s like Pandora, iTunes or even an old-fashioned jukebox in a diner. On those systems, you fire them up and they pump out the music you want. And every time there’s a mass shooting or domestic terrorist attack -- ala Orlando, San Bernardino or Fort Hood -- you can pretty much expect the political jukebox to cough up a predestined set of bromides.
Wedge a quarter in the jukebox, watch the mechanical arm retrieve a disc and, voila, the selection of your choice spills out over a tiny speaker, across your stack of blueberry pancakes.
People predictably withdraw to their respective ideological corners after each incident. This divide usually comports with a particular orthodoxy that either affirms an individual’s beliefs in party, issues or actors.
People then simultaneously excoriate the other side for perceived failings. They argue those flaws are the factors responsible for the mayhem.
And like on Pandora or the jukebox, people hear the exact tune they want.
It didn’t take long for everyone to run this prefab drill in the hours immediately following Orlando.
Republicans immediately cast the spree in under the rubric of terrorism – which it was. The GOP then raised the ante, framing the murders in the ultimate conservative argot of the day: “radical Islamic terrorism.”
Of course, if President Obama and Democrats don’t utter that phrase verbatim, then surely they’re not serious about combatting terrorists…
Democrats went to the jukebox, too. Democrats generally don’t poll as high as Republicans on national security. But voters concerned about firearms, LGBT rights and immigration typically reward Democrats with high marks.
So the fact that it was guns…and an LGBT club…and Latino night at an LGBT club…
This narrative writes itself for Democrats.
Democrats pushed for stricter firearm legislation for decades. Then, a debate over transgender restrooms recently erupted into a national political conflagration. And then an effort arose in Congress to bar LGBT discrimination in federal contracting.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., is openly gay. The congressman authored a LGBT protection amendment that he tried to latch to multiple annual appropriations bills. In May, Republicans scrambled to find just enough votes to defeat Maloney’s plan -- and salvage a measure funding the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Republicans viewed Maloney’s amendment as a “poison pill.” Adoption of Maloney’s amendment would have transformed the entire VA bill into something Republicans couldn’t support. The GOP didn’t want to fail at funding programs for veterans. So, Republican leaders unearthed just enough opposition to defeat Maloney’s plan. The House then approved the entire bill, sans the Maloney amendment.
Maloney’s amendment returned on another spending bill for energy and water programs a few weeks ago. This time, the House adopted Maloney’s amendment. But approval of the Maloney amendment sufficiently soiled the bill for lawmakers. The House defeated the entire energy and water measure.
After that, House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and other GOP leaders began locking down bills to bar the House from considering certain amendments like Maloney’s.
Maloney cited Orlando when he made his case for the House Rules Committee to permit a debate on his amendment as a part of a Pentagon funding bill.
“Speaker Ryan rigged the vote. Rigged the bill. He then changed the rules to rig the process to protect discrimination even in the aftermath of Orlando,” Maloney claimed. “They should be ashamed.”
Congressional Democrats also knew what would happen as soon as lawmakers trotted back to Washington after the attack. They suspected the House would conduct a moment of silence to commemorate the attack. Some Democrats walked out.
Assistant House Minority Leader Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., hectored Ryan at the end of the 16-second pause for not debating gun bills. Ryan ruled Clyburn out of order as Democrats chanted “Shame! Shame!” and “No leadership.”
Meanwhile, the House Homeland Security Committee quickly began crafting legislation to fight terrorism. The House and Senate requested special briefings by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and FBI Director James Comey to loop in all lawmakers about what went down in Orlando.
But whether this is about radicalized Islam or terrorism or homophobia or just gun, Democrats appear to have successfully leveraged congressional debate into a discussion about firearms.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., is responsible for that after conducting his 14 hour and 50 minute talk-a-thon about guns Wednesday and Thursday.
Murphy’s effort helped Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, secure an agreement with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to conduct a series of procedural votes late Monday on guns: two amendments from Republicans and two from Democrats.
Each amendment needs 60 votes to skip to a final vote, which needs only a simple majority for passage.
One of the amendments is a plan by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to bar prospective terrorists already listed on a no-fly list from acquiring weapons.
Democrats are more than happy to put vulnerable Republican senators facing reelection on the record on firearms -- again.
They hope voters will eye how Sens. Mark Kirk, Illinois; Rob Portman, Ohio; Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire; Roy Blunt, Missouri; Ron Johnson, Wisconsin; Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania, and Richard Burr, North Carolina, vote Monday.
But after the deadly San Bernardino terror attack late last year, Feinstein’s plan mustered only 45 yeas in a similar roll call vote.
Still, Democrats want to document those votes and potentially deploy the results against those endangered GOP incumbents in November.
It’s likely that Republicans will also try to engineer votes in the coming days on anti-terrorism provisions. No lawmaker of either party wants to be seen as doing “nothing” after Orlando.
Sixty votes is almost always the magic number to advance items in the Senate. In the spring of 2013, nearly every gun amendment to respond to the Sand Hook attack failed. That’s because Reid and McConnell forged a pact requiring 60 votes for adoption.
Democrats didn’t want the GOP’s “pro” gun amendments passing any more than Republicans were willing to accept the Democrats’ “con” gun amendments.
By forcing Senate votes, Democrats converted guns into the “800-pound gorilla” of the Orlando shooting. But other 800-pound gorillas remain over terrorism, homophobia, Islam, ISIL … .
It’s like the zoo tragedy in Cincinnati. Everyone sprints to the reasons they think things went wrong. And the same is true with Orlando.