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Orlando attack re-exposes the great American divide

| Saturday, June 18, 2016, 9:00 p.m.

SMITHTON, Pa.

Gunshots echoed across the mountains hugging the valley cut by the Youghiogheny River as anglers, boaters, bikers and day-hikers enjoyed the Great Allegheny Passage recreational area between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.

A group of men in their mid-30s, dressed in biking shorts and jerseys, stood around a gazebo built for travelers on the 300-mile trail, discussing where to end their day. The gunfire horrified them — but not in a duck-we're-under-attack way. Their reactions ranged from ridicule to misunderstanding to disgust and concluded with an assumption that they were unsafe around “these people” and it was time to move along.

In truth, the shots came from a local sportsmen's club. Most people around here consider the club members to be among the region's premier conservators; they stock the river every spring, lead clean-up crews along the trail, keep the deer population contained with their hunting and donate venison to needy families who can live off the meat of one buck for more than a year.

Theirs is a tradition passed from father to son. They don't own AR-15s but will defend your right to do so — not because they think people should have semi-automatic weapons but because they see gun ownership as one of our freedoms that Main Street America is ceding to cosmopolitan elites.

On Monday, as the motives and the blame for the Orlando massacre were dissected by “experts” on CNN, a successful Pittsburgh businessman called, distressed by the media coverage.

“Why do they make me feel as though I am somehow to blame for this?” he asked.

He is white, middle-aged, a gun owner, a devout Catholic and, despite his success and widespread respect for his generosity, he felt he heard a “Shame on you!” message from President Obama on down.

Everyone, he said, appeared to blame the tragedy in Orlando on guns, bigots, racism and people whose religious beliefs do not support gay marriage (but likely could care less if someone is gay): “It was like a series of code-words aimed at Middle America.”

Obama, many Democrats and much of the political class always come across as not being on Main Street's side. It is a feeling that makes Americans feel frustrated, ostracized, unsafe. And it adds to that disconnect that pundits always bemoan yet perversely contribute to by piling on against the “otherness” of traditional American culture.

Obama inserted politics into his passionless initial reaction to the Orlando slaughter; a day later, passion emerged only when he attacked Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. In both instances, he blamed Republicans for not passing a semi-automatic weapons ban and a ban on weapons sales to suspected terrorists on the nation's no-fly list.

The last time I checked, Democrats controlled Congress and the presidency in 2009 and 2010 and they never allowed either of those measures to go to the House or Senate floor for a vote.

The reason they never passed a gun-sales ban for people on any watch lists is that law enforcement doesn't want it. Last week, the FBI director's leadership team reinforced what the director himself said in 2015 — that passing a law to prevent gun-buying by people on the terror-watch list or the no-fly list would make terrorism suspects aware of their status and blow a potential investigation.

To have an effective AR-15 ban, as Democrats are calling for, you would need to confiscate the guns that are out there. The proponents know that but hate to admit it.

Sixty million semi-automatic weapons are legally owned in the United States. Banning sales going forward would be inconsequential and confiscation would be wildly unpopular.

So, what are we left with?

Grandstanding by the liberal political class, a widening gulf between them and the “otherness” of gun owners and so much politicking over a tragedy that Americans turn away in disgust.

But don't think those disgusted Americans are not mourning the terrible losses of innocent lives in Orlando. They just do so in a way that does not require a news conference.

Salena Zito covers politics for the Tribune-Review (szito@tribweb.com).

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