Our Opinion: Act before the next gun massacre and somber vigil

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Pittsfield's vigil for the victims of Sunday's massacre in Orlando was moving and well-attended. All would agree that America needs fewer occasions for vigils.

Anger mixed with determination to bring about change at Tuesday's vigil in Pittsfield, one of many vigils that attracted thousands of Americans across the country. In Pittsfield, the 49 victims memorialized included KJ Morris of Northampton, a drag performer remembered fondly by local residents Tony Barini and Ed Bailey.

The shooter in America's worst gun massacre targeted a gay nightclub in Orlando, a reminder that while members of the LGBTQ community are winning their rights in courthouses and legislatures across the country, those victories will enrage embittered homophobes. Education and life experience can counter that hatred — people with gay friends and family members will find it hard to hate gays as a group — but that fight for rights will not be stopped or slowed by hate-filled individuals carrying weapons.

Gunman Omar Mateen may have fancied himself an Islamic radical, but by at one time or another expressing allegiance to ISIS and al-Qaida (extremist Sunni Islamic groups at odds with one another) and Hezbollah (an extremist Shiite Islamic group at war with ISIS and al-Qaida) he revealed his ignorance about the cause that supposedly motivated him. The Queens-born Mr. Mateen was not an Islamic assassin acting on orders to terrorize the nation but a pathetic, possibly self-loathing gay man, motivated by hatred.

"Put down the gun and hug your neighbor" was the sound advice offered on a sign at the Park Square vigil held by Frank LeClair of Pittsfield. Getting to know your neighbor as a human being rather than as a stereotype is a strong antidote to hate.

People consumed by hate will, of course, always be with us, which is why they must be denied access as much as possible to the weapons they need to act out that hatred. States like Massachusetts have taken action against gun violence, but since the slaughter of children in Newtown, Connecticut, one gun massacre after another has faded into history without any response from Congress.

Orlando should produce a federal ban on assault weapons, and Americans shouldn't except any excuses for why that can't happen. Without meaningful reform, the next gun massacre and the next vigil will soon be upon us.


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