Six Questions About the Orlando Massacre

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, one of the victims of the shooting massacre that happened at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on June 12. Danielle Pletka writes that Islamists say they are hitting at the “corrupt heart” of America. A Turkish Islamist paper headlined the massacre: “50 Perverts Killed in Bar.” Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz/Facebook/reuters

This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

Forty-nine Americans are dead at the hands of an ISIS-inspired terrorist. But for all that we know about the killer himself, there are some tough questions that remain unanswered, questions whose answers could help prevent another such attack.

1. Are There More Homegrown Terrorists Than We Realize?

The short answer is probably yes. While the United States has fewer Muslim ghettos than the U.K. or France, the growing emphasis on what makes us different rather than what makes us the same almost dictates there will be more young Muslims in the U.S. drawn to the extremist ISIS message.

Meanwhile, money from Saudi Arabia and other foreign sources has poured into mosques and Islamic schools advancing a more extremist message.

2. Are Lone Wolves Avoidable?

My instinct is largely yes. But that will require more attention to centers of extremism, including foreign-funded schools and mosques; more attention to those who seem inclined to extremism; more of the intrusive government that liberals and conservatives together loathe; more scrutiny of those who will end up being entirely innocent.

Worth it? You tell me.

3. Why Guns?

There's a tendency to attribute more planning and strategic thinking to terrorists, although they often rely on luck to inflict their damage. But guns have a special political part in American life.

There's the constitutional right to bear arms and the fierce devotion of many Americans to that right. And there is the passionate opposition of many—the president of the United States included—to the sale and ownership of those guns.

And here we are, talking about guns. Talking about an extremist attack in the context of other mass shootings as if they were the same.

Was that on purpose? Utilitarian? Can guns do more damage than the preferred tool of militants, the explosive device? Are they easier to find? Or is this a more sophisticated effort to divide the public

4. Who Can Buy a Gun?

Terrorists, apparently. Former residents on terrorism watch lists. Former known associates of convicted terrorists. We all know why: stove piping.

The FBI, local law enforcement, intelligence and the myriad other enforcement agencies all keep their lists separate. This is why the Department of Homeland Security was created in the wake of 9/11—to stop this sort of stove piping and ensure that information is shared.

Guess what? It still isn't. And more government bureaucracy hasn't fixed it.

5. Why a Gay Nightclub?

Was it just opportunism? Hatred? Another strategic effort to direct and divide conversation? Hard to know.

But remember, the narrative for Islamic extremists is that they are hitting at the "corrupt heart" of America. A Turkish Islamist paper headlined the event thus: "50 perverts killed in bar."

In addition to women, Jews, Christians and other Muslims, gays have become a favored target for Islamists. What is U.S. policy doing about that? Not much.

And contrary to the favored trope—we win by living our lives—the short answer is that we're not winning. Their virus is spreading from Syria to Turkey to Afghanistan and beyond.

6. Should We Bar All Muslims?

Omar Mateen was born in the United States. Major Nidal Hasan was in the U.S. Army.

But there's a more important issue here. What does the United States stand for? As vile as it is, a terrorist attack against a gay club in Florida doesn't alter the American way of life. But beginning to segregate the country, immigration policy and attitudes based on religion will change us.

What makes America great is the hope it holds for the world, the example it shows.

America is the greatest nation because of our values, because of our openness, because of our conviction that what it takes to be an American is a commitment to this country, not a creed or a race or a sex. Are those days of greatness behind us?

Danielle Pletka is senior vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Before joining AEI, Pletka was a longtime senior professional staff member for the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, where she specialized in the Near East and South Asia as the point person on Middle East, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.