Imagine, just for a second, that things had gone differently.
Imagine that James Oliver Seevakumaran, the disaffected loner with a stockpiled arsenal who shot himself last week inside a University of Central Florida dorm, hadn’t been spooked by his roommate or the cops or the pangs of his conscience, but instead had gone through with his plan to massacre UCF students as they awoke to the sound of a fire alarm and began to exit their high-rise tower early that Monday morning.
Imagine that Seevakumaran had succeeded, that 10, 20, 30, maybe 40 students were mowed down before he finally committed the inevitable suicide-by-cop. Imagine that UCF’s sprawling campus was now mentioned in the same breath as Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, Virginia Tech and Columbine.
Imagine that a media frenzy had descended upon East Orlando, with journalists feverishly reporting details and rumors about the gunman and his victims. Imagine families mourning on the evening news. Imagine that the governor and legislators and congressmen and maybe even the president had come as well, to minister to a heartbroken nation and call for some sort of vague action.
Maybe then, in the face of yet another unspeakable tragedy spawned by a twisted mind and the barrel of a submachine gun, the pusillanimous U.S. Senate, cowed by the seemingly all-powerful NRA, wouldn’t have shelved an assault weapons ban for which – though it’s supported in polls by nearly three in five Americans – Senate Democrats couldn’t even wrangle 40 votes, much less the 60 they’d need to overcome a filibuster. Maybe then, the Florida Legislature wouldn’t have been so quick to dismiss or ignore the more than two dozen gun-control measures filed this session. (One bill, which restricts the ability of the mentally ill to purchase firearms, did clear its first committee last week. Of course, this wouldn’t have applied to Seevakumaran, who had no documented history of mental illness.)
“This time,” the politicians would have told us, just like they told us after Newtown in December, “things will be different. This time, we’ll act.”
Maybe they would have. Maybe this outrage would have been the straw that finally broke the camel’s back.
But as it happens, we got lucky. Whether that’s because, as UCF police claim, Seevakumaran’s plan was disrupted by their quick response to the fire alarm he pulled and his roommate’s 911 call or something else doesn’t really matter. We’ve counted our blessings and moved on, this near-catastrophe and its villain rendered objects of macabre curiosity rather than a call to action.
The problem is, the system worked exactly as it should. Seevakumaran bought his GSG 522 – a knockoff of the Heckler & Koch MP5, a weapon used by SWAT teams and military special forces – legally online, and then picked it up at a local gun shop. He passed an instant criminal-background check, but didn’t need a waiting period. He probably paid about $450.
The rifle is semiautomatic, which means it will fire as quickly as you pull the trigger. Seevakumaran could have emptied the two 110-round drum magazines he purchased in a matter of minutes. In the hallways and stairwells of that dormitory tower, its 500 students would have been sitting ducks. There was nothing the cops could have done to avert disaster. That’s not their fault; it’s just a fact. (If you think the answer is arming 18-year-olds, you clearly haven’t spent much time on a major college campus.)
The GSG 522 isn’t a weapon you use to hunt game or protect your house. It can, however, kill a lot of people quickly. Which is exactly why California Sen. Diane Feinstein’s office proposed assault-weapons legislation would have forbidden both Seevakumaran’s assault rifle and high-capacity magazines.
But the plan, like Seevakumaran, died last week.
And yet Congress has, in its infinite wisdom, decided that James Oliver Seevakumaran’s freedom to obtain this killing machine with relative ease trumps students’ freedom to live without fear of being slaughtered, or the freedom of parents in Newtown to watch their babies grow up, or the freedom of moviegoers in Aurora to enjoy a peaceful Friday night.
Every time one of these incidents occurs, we gnash our teeth and tell ourselves that we won’t wait until the next time to act. But when fate grants us a reprieve, we shrug.
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