More than 100 people gathered at the corner of Halsted and Roscoe Sunday evening for a vigil in the wake of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history at a gay nightclub in Orlando, on June 12, 2016. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mitchell: No place for semi-automatic rifles

SHARE Mitchell: No place for semi-automatic rifles
SHARE Mitchell: No place for semi-automatic rifles

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I woke up Monday morning with the familiar words of the “Serenity Prayer” playing in my head:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.”

The radio was on all day Sunday.

I listened to the sounds of anguish — now about as familiar as the words of this famous prayer. The cries mingled with the angry words of activists, celebrities and politicians expressed the horror most of us felt:

They called the tragedy “heartbreaking.” “Horrific.” “Unthinkable.”

An obviouslymentally disturbed young man walked into a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida armed with a semi-automatic rifle and turned the world upside down.

I was about to take the dog for a walk and thought the radio announcer had gotten his facts twisted. Forty-nine people shot and killed? A lone shooter? Fifty-three people critically wounded and hospitalized?


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The previous deadliest mass shooting was the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, where a student killed 32 people before taking his own life.

“That just couldn’t be right,” I thought, trying to make sense of the Orlando report.

Not after 2012, when a mentally unstable man killed 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

And not after another deranged man stormed into a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, that same year — armed with multiple weapons that included a semi-automatic rifle — and killed 12 people and wounded 70 others.

Despite the carnage, federal legislators have been unable to even pass a ban on weapons that are designed for all-out war.

The AR-15, the semi-automatic military weapon used in the Orlando shooting, also was used in the mass shootings in Newtown, Aurora and San Bernardino, California.

Because Omar Mateen, the 29-year-old shooter, apparently called 911 to profess his allegiance to the Islamic State group, the focus will be on the role terrorism played in this mass killing.

How was he radicalized? Why was he able to get deadly weapons even though the FBI had questioned him for allegedly making terrorist threats? Authorities will turn over every rock looking for connections between Mateen and terrorists.

But Mateen appeared to be the typical homophobic hater. Indeed, his attempt to link his hate to that of the Islamic State is part of his cowardly act.

We will never be able to change the hearts of haters.

But “We the People” can change federal laws that allow gun dealers to sell semi-automatic weapons like the one used by this shooter.

It is shocking that Mateen or anybody else can get their hands on a military-style weapon that is capable of firing off 45 rounds per minute.

“He had an automatic rifle, so nobody stood a chance,” Jackie Smith, who saw two friends next to her get shot, told the Associated Press. “I just tried to get out of there.”

The gun control debate heats up after each mass shooting, and then dies down after the speeches are made and the mourners are left with their grief.

Typically congressional leaders pledge to “stand with the families,” but what does that even mean?

As bluntly noted by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, “We should not be selling automatic weapons which are designed to kill people.”

We may never be able to figure out why this shooter did what he did, but we ought to be able to figure out how to keep semi-automatic weapons off the street.

God, please. Give us the courage to change the things we can.

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