Runaway gun violence through eyes of a former Marine

The El Paso massacre of last weekend, in which a white nationalist left 22 dead, more than two dozen wounded and a community traumatized, must be a wake-up call for this nation.

It is time for Americans of all political stripes to demand that we address domestic terrorism with the same focus and resources we have brought to bear against foreign-sponsored terror.

Despite disappointing morning-after statements from the president, this critical mission is unlikely to proceed in an era where the rallying cry for domestic hate too often begins in the White House and is amplified and repeated by sycophant politicians, bloggers and TV commentators.

Hate speech and race baiting are dangerous and demeaning to millions of Americans, but when used to mobilize and justify the slaughter of innocent people, such acts are truly criminal.

When I was deployed to Afghanistan, I was a young man with a naive perception of the people we were fighting. I saw them solely as the enemy — as a physical manifestation of what we were sent to stop.

I didn’t realize then that this enemy’s strongest weapon was speech. Our enemy used powerful, manipulative language to convince young men to commit heinous acts against Americans.

I am proud of my service and was proud to do what my country asked of me. But I am concerned to see the White House mirroring those same strategies that enable naive young people to pick up a gun in the name of hate.

As a country, we did not tolerate an attack on American soil. We put aside political differences and did something. This should be no different.

El Paso was an attack by terrorists on American soil — an attack on the American dream that every veteran ever fought for. Why are we less outraged? Why do our leaders refuse to act?

All Americans, regardless of nation of origin or skin color, deserve to work, raise a family and shop at their local shopping center without having to worry about being gunned down by a young man mobilized by hatred.

Political leaders must put first the people of our country — and the values we represent — instead of bending to dangerous special interests like the NRA. They shouldn’t offer meaningless sound bites that deflect responsibility from the real issues: hate speech and easy access to military-style weapons.

In the Marine Corps we trained extensively with a multitude of firearms, none more than the M16. We were taught to call it exactly what it is, a weapon. And we were trained to treat it as the tool of war it is.

There is no reason that this weapon, which is literally designed to kill as many people as quickly as possible, should be as accessible as it is to the general public. Military-style rifles are not for hunting, they are not toys, and there is no need for them in sport.

The fact that a troubled young man in Gilroy, California, El Paso, Texas, or Dayton, Ohio can walk into a store and legally purchase military-style weapons without a second thought to the safety of others is shocking — and is something that can be changed by law today.

Over and over we hear politicians offer “thoughts and prayers” and even say “we have to do something.” Yet when presented with meaningful reforms, they take no action.

Strong legislation sits this very day in the U.S. Senate, where leadership could move to make it easier to remove guns from the hands of dangerous people, enact tougher background checks and adopt other commonsense, lifesaving measures.

Heinous attacks on American soil are a tragic reminder that if we want to address the epidemic of gun deaths, and stop the rise of domestic terror, it starts with changing the people who send the tweets, make the laws and establish anti-terrorism policy.

It means electing leaders who provide young Americans with hope and opportunity, not fear and hatred.

Terrorism is terrorism no matter where it is, no matter who perpetrates it and no matter who it’s aimed against. The fight against terror always has, and always must, start here at home with Americans coming together to demand our collective safety.

Keep your thoughts and prayers; give us action.

Jordan Waits is a Marine Corps veteran and Lakewood resident. He wrote this in conjunction with the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. Reach him by email at press@wagunresponsibility