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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

I don’t care whether the evil maniac who slaughtered at least 49 people in an Orlando gay bar was a Muslim or a Christian, a Democrat or a Republican, a bigot or a terrorist.

I don’t care whether you call what he did — the worst mass shooting in American history — a terror attack or an act of radical Islamic terrorism or a massacre or a hate crime.

What I care about is this: Without a legally purchased military-style rifle, he would’ve just been a guy standing in a bar.

Are there lame excuses that can be used to argue that point? Absolutely. How about these:

“You’re just trying to punish law-abiding gun owners.”

“If he didn’t have a gun he would’ve had a knife or a bomb.”

Or this chestnut: “If everyone in the bar was armed, fewer people would’ve died.”

Blah. Blah. Blah. I won’t even entertain responses to those gripes, because they’re either whiny, defeatist or predicated on all Americans toting firearms 24/7.

Every time there’s a mass shooting in this country — and it’s getting to be a bit too frequent, wouldn’t you say? — one group of Americans points out that the common denominator in these tragedies is the device that sends the bullets into people’s bodies and another group clutches their pocket Constitutions to their chests and cries, “Tyranny!”

One group says, “Hey, maybe if we didn’t let people on the terrorist watch list buy guns, that might help,” and the other group says, “We can’t do that because someone accidentally on the terrorist watch list might be denied their precious right to a gun.”

That’s literally what happened one day after 14 people were killed in San Bernardino, Calif., by a self-radicalized Muslim couple using legally purchased AR-15 assault rifles. Senate Republicans rejected a bill that would have stopped suspected terrorists from legally buying guns.

The Orlando shooter, who also used an AR-15, had been on the FBI’s radar since 2013. And he legally bought a gun, without which he would’ve had a much harder time murdering more than four dozen human beings and injuring dozens more.

Could he have still done it? Sure. But we made it easy for him. We always make it easy, because making it hard might infringe on someone’s right to buy a cool new gun.

But wait, the real problem is Muslims, right? Tell that to the white guy from Indiana, James Wesley Howell, who was arrested Sunday in California with a cache of weapons, ammunition and explosive-making materials in his car.

Tell that to the people at Virginia Tech who still recall how Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people in 2007.

Tell that to the families of the 26 people — 20 children and six adults — gunned down by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

Be like presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and insist that the problem we’re dealing with here centers entirely around Muslims.

Treat this most recent tragedy, which involved an American-born Muslim who police say pledged allegiance to the Islamic State before the shooting, in an almost celebratory fashion the way Trump did as he tweeted, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism” and “I called it.”

But then remember that Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim people entering the country would’ve done nothing to stop Sunday’s shooting. The shooter was born here, as much a citizen as any one of us.

So unless Trump’s actual proposal is to round up every Muslim in the country — thus making America a lot less like America — then he’s spouting nonsense.

I am sick, beyond belief, of politicians in the pocket of the National Rifle Association talking “American exceptionalism” out one side of their mouths and then saying, “What can we do? Bad guys will always get guns” out the other.

This country is great. This country is powerful, and smart. We can break this insane cycle.

But we have to try. And right now, trying is denounced as an attack on liberty. Blame is directed at everything except the ease with which guns are purchased, something even our enemies have taken note of as they plot to do us harm from within.

An exceptional America does more than divide up and yell. An exceptional America fixes this.

We are not, right now, exceptional. Not at all.

You can say we’re at war with radical Islamic terrorism until you’re blue in the face. But who we’re really at war with, I’m afraid, is ourselves.

(Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune and a noted hypocrisy enthusiast. You can email him at rhuppke@tribune.com or follow him on Twitter at @RexHuppke.)

(c)2016 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: People light candles during a vigil in memory of the victims of the gay nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, at St Anne’s church in the Soho district of London, June 13, 2016. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

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