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Congress' response to Orlando: silence

Here we go again.

This time, it was a gay nightclub. This time, it was a radical Muslim — or was it? Maybe it was a horribly conflicted gay man who could not come to terms with who he was, and the 911 call declaring allegiance to the Islamic State was just a convenient excuse.

In the end, we will never know for sure, because Omar Mateen is dead. And in the end, it doesn't really matter. Because it could have been anything, and the outcome would be the same.

Not because our country's leader refuses to confront radical Islam, despite Donald Trump's despicable demagoguery, but because our elected representatives refuse to make it more difficult for anyone who wants one to obtain a firearm designed to kill large numbers of people as efficiently as possible at short range.

Spare us the debates about the futility of banning weapons or classes of weapons. We are not advocating that here, for the simple reason that it is politically impossible to achieve in the current climate. Do ask yourself, however, how many mass shootings have been committed with fully automatic machine guns.

Can't think of one? Might it be because private ownership of such weapons is illegal without a special license? Is that an example of a ban that actually works? Just a thought.

Mateen used an AR-15, the semi-automatic civilian copy of the military M-16 and one of the most popular guns in the United States, despite the fact that it is not particularly useful for hunting and not the best choice for home defense either. He also carried a handgun and extra magazines.

What is maddening about this latest carnage, in which 50 people died and 53 were injured, is that the shooter was practically dressed in red flags for a long time. Despite reports from his co-workers that he claimed ties to al-Qaida and Hezbollah and talked about dying as a martyr in a shootout with police, he managed to stay employed as an armed security guard. 

The FBI interviewed him three times and investigated him for 10 months, placing him on a terror watch list, but closed the investigation and removed him from the list when investigators could not substantiate any connection with terror groups.

People on the watch list are not automatically barred from buying guns. It's worth asking why not.

In any case, Mateen had been removed from the list before he bought the guns he used in the nightclub attack. He did, however, apparently have a history of beating his wife, but was not convicted of a crime. Federal law bars those convicted of domestic violence from owning firearms.

Many Americans own guns. Relatively few shoot other people with them. There has to be a way to keep those prone to doing that from buying guns easily. That requires Congress to act — something it is not much good at anymore, especially when the gun lobby is fighting any sane measure to limit access to firearms. And a ban on federal funding for researching gun violence remains in place.

Congress' response to the massacre in Orlando? A moment of silence. Again.

The time for silence is over. Americans — who overwhelmingly support stronger background checks on gun buyers — must call on their representatives, loudly, to act.