Photo by Associated Press.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect federal officials' reporting that the rifle used was a Sig Sauer MCX.
ORLANDO, Fla. – Omar Mateen legally bought the guns he used to kill 49 people and wound another 53, said an official at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Wielding a .223 Sig Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle and a handgun, Mateen opened fire at the crowded Pulse Orlando club early Sunday morning in the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history. He was killed in a gun battle with a SWAT team after police used explosives and a small armored vehicle to punch a hole in a wall and allow dozens of club-goers to escape, police said.
Mateen was a 29-year-old American-born Muslim who worked as a security guard in Florida. FBI officials said they had investigated him in 2013 and 2014 on suspicion of terrorist sympathies but could not make a case against him.
Mateen bought at least two guns legally within the last week or so, according to Trevor Velinor of the ATF.
President Barack Obama called the latest massacre “a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub.
“And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be.”
Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, pushed for gun control and reached out to a key constituency — gays and lesbians.
“The gunman attacked an LGBT nightclub during Pride Month. To the LGBT community: please know that you have millions of allies across our country. I am one of them,” she said in a statement, adding a call to keep assault weapons out of the hands of “terrorists or other violent criminals.”
But the argument for gun control “doesn’t hold water,” said State Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott. “We need to start enforcing our (existing gun) laws, we need to start protecting our borders, we need to start vetting the people who are here that are pledging their allegiance to organizations that would do harm to our citizens.
“This is a person the FBI was already aware of, this is a person who had already threatened to do harm, and they did nothing about it,” Fann said. “And somehow, he was able to obtain weapons, contrary to what our weapon laws say.”
The director of terrorism, intelligence, and security studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Dr. Richard Bloom, pointed out that “the terrorists have the advantage, in that they just have to be successful on occasion; the counterterrorist authorities have to get it right all the time.”
But, he said, “We need to keep on collecting and analyzing information so we have an idea of who’s a threat, when they’re going to do it, and why they’re going to do it.”
Then, he said, the goal is to “deter them, and detain them or neutralize them before they get anywhere close to the location of their planned terrorist attack.”
There’s no accurate way to predict or profile all mass shooters. In this case, Mateen’s family said he didn’t seem to be radicalized, and added that he did not like gays. While that may account for his gunning down people at a gay bar, it doesn’t answer why he called 911 to claim a political motive.
“Almost all the time” the counterterrorism experts “are effective. A number of terrorist attacks have been nipped in the bud and deterred way before they were going to happen,” Bloom said.
If it seems that these kind of attacks breed more attacks, it’s true, he said. “Americans, especially, are lucrative psychological targets for terrorists, and that’s because many Americans seem to expect 100 percent safety and security, so when there’s a successful terrorist attack – or even an unsuccessful one – it gets in the mass media, and a lot of people become anxious and fearful, and that increases the probability there will be terrorists attacks in the future.”
One way to fight back, and possibly reduce the number of them, Bloom said, is found in our reactions to attacks. “If people instead went about their lives, and didn’t let these kinds of things affect what they’re trying to do, and affect the kinds of things that are important to them, they would actually be fighting terrorism.”
The owner of a gun store where Mateen bought his weapons says the gunman passed a full background check. Ed Henson, owner of the St. Lucie Shooting Center, told reporters during a news conference Monday outside his business that Mateen legally purchased a long gun and a handgun about a week or so ago.
Mateen had two security licenses, an armed one and an unarmed one, the Associated Press reported.
“FBI conducts the background checks,” said Don Grier, owner of Prescott Gun Club. “The FBI already had a file open on this person. They should have known within their agency there was a file open.”
Grier, who believes there’s not enough enforcement of existing firearms laws, which he has said he believes would “wipe out a lot of gun crime,” contends that Mateen shouldn’t have been eligible to purchase a gun at all.
“I can’t understand why he was able to get that gun,” he said. “He should not have been able to get that gun.”
In Denver, Sandy Phillips, whose daughter was among 12 killed at a Colorado movie theater in July 2012, said she could see why mass shootings have continued since then.
“Because we allow it,” and laws that allow almost anyone who has not been convicted of a felony to purchase guns have made it too simple to get weapons and ammunition, Phillips said. That includes semi-automatic rifles like Mateen’s.Sig Sauer MCX, a common denominator in many of the worst recent mass shootings — Newtown, Aurora, San Bernardino, to name a few.
More frustrating, Phillips said, is that even the most horrifying massacres have provoked little change.
“We have made it so easy in this country, for anyone — any one,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who that person is or what their agenda is.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.