How to have basic rights in a world full of hatred

Millions of Americans suffer from mental illness of one sort or another. Yet very few of them commit acts of extreme violence. It may be the incidence of such violence among them is no higher than for those considered to be “normal.”

What was different about Omar Mateen, the Florida man who massacred at least 50 people in an Orlando nightclub?

Mateen reportedly was mentally ill, possibly bipolar. What differentiated him from others facing that challenge was that he was influenced by Muslim terrorist propaganda.

He was what we call a “lone wolf,” someone acting independently of terrorist groups such as the Islamic State but deeply under their evil spell.

That spell appears to be cast almost exclusively via the internet. Islamic State, al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations have become experts at using social networking and other online tools to incite both hatred and violence.

As usually is the situation after Americans are shaken to the core by acts of horrific violence, the issue of gun control is being debated with renewed intensity. If only we could deny weapons to people like Mateen, we could prevent mass killings, we are told.

But in countries where limits on firearms ownership are quite rigid, much more so than anything suggested for the United States, evildoers still manage to get guns. In this country, where many people own firearms, it is virtually a given that someone like Mateen would be able to obtain one.

What of another form of control? What about shutting off or at least restricting severely the violent hatred flowing to people via the internet?

It can be done to some extent. The Chinese government does a good job of it.

First Amendment concerns surface, and rightly so, anytime restrictions on any form of communication are suggested. But the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that freedom of speech is not guaranteed when the intent is to incite violence.

No sweeping action such as blocking internet communications on a large scale – as would be necessary to limit or eliminate terrorists’ propaganda network – should be taken without debate, of course.

What happened Sunday in Orlando makes it clear Americans should be having that debate.