The massacre in Las Vegas
The nation was left reeling this week by the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, after a gunman on the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel shot dead 58 people and injured 527 others at a country music festival across the street below. The massacre began at 10:07 p.m. on Sunday night, when 64-year-old retiree Stephen Paddock smashed out two windows in his suite at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and began raining down bullets on the 22,000 festivalgoers. Using semi-automatic rifles fitted with “bump stock” accessories— which increase the rate of fire to nearly machine-gun levels—Paddock spent 11 minutes spraying the crowd with bullets as they dove, hid, and ran for cover. “I stepped over a guy with blood pouring out of his head,” said Craig Herman, 57, a survivor. “I saw maybe 15 others like that. I’ve never seen so much blood.” When a SWAT team stormed Paddock’s suite, they found Paddock dead from a self-inflicted pistol wound. He had an arsenal of 23 guns—12 fitted with bump stocks—and had set up three remote cameras to watch for police.
Investigators said they were baffled over what motivated Paddock. A retired real estate investor who lived in Mesquite, Nev., he often traveled to Las Vegas to gamble large sums on video poker. He had no criminal record—though his father was a bank robber who was once on the FBI’s most-wanted list—and seems to have bought his weapons legally. Paddock had no ties to international terror groups, and was described by family and neighbors as a loner with no obvious political or religious views. Police were hoping to learn more from his Filipino girlfriend, Marilou Danley, who left the country two weeks before the attack but returned to the U.S. on Tuesday.
President Donald Trump, who called the shooting “an act of pure evil,” traveled to Las Vegas to meet survivors and first responders. Amid calls from Democrats for stricter gun laws, the president said he was open to a discussion on that topic “at some point perhaps.”
What the editorials said
“The massacre in Las Vegas was horrifying,” said NationalReview.com, “the reaction to it dispiriting.” Progressives made the usual calls for “commonsensical” gun control measures, none of which would have helped in Las Vegas. Paddock would have passed any background check. “The sobering fact is that mass murders have become an ordinary part of our cultural landscape”—and unless we want to seize all guns and “convert our country into a police state,” we will remain “vulnerable to acts of mass violence.”
Four of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings—Virginia Tech, Newtown, Orlando, and now Las Vegas—have now occurred “in the past decade,” said USA Today. After every one, the gun lobby insists various gun control measures “would not have stopped that particular shooting.” But that’s not the point. In countries such as Australia and Britain, mass shootings prompted legislative action that significantly reduced firearm deaths. In the U.S., the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms, but “allows for reasonable regulation.” We could limit future carnage by adopting universal background checks on buyers, and banning the kinds of assault weapons, “bump stocks,” and high-capacity magazines Paddock used to turn Las Vegas into a killing field.
What the columnists said
Stephen Paddock is a “frightening enigma,” said David Graham in TheAtlantic.com. Though “solitary and itinerant,” he was relatively wealthy, relatively old, and apparently unaffiliated with any extremist groups. He fits into none of the obvious mass-shooter profiles. If an apparently “ordinary” guy is capable of an act this monstrous, “what hope can there be to identify suspects like him before they attack?” If Paddock had been a Muslim, then Trump, Congress, and many Americans “would be in full panic mode” and demanding drastic action, said Adam Gopnik in NewYorker.com. But because he was “just one more American ‘psycho’” with an arsenal of killing machines, Republicans disingenuously insist “there’s nothing at all to be done.”
Sorry, but the fact that “we are still overreacting to Muslims because of 9/11” doesn’t mean we should also overreact to mass shootings, said Nick Gillespie in Reason.com. If gun control is the answer, why did firearms crime and homicide rates drop significantly between 1993 and 2015—a period when it became much easier to acquire guns in most states?
This idea that gun control doesn’t work is a pernicious lie, said Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy in The Washington Post. Since my state of Connecticut responded to the Newtown massacre of 20 schoolchildren by expanding background checks and requiring issued handgun permits, “gun crimes have dropped by 40 percent.”
The debate over gun control runs much deeper than policy specifics, said Anne Helen Petersen in BuzzFeed.com. Liberals intrinsically believe it is the “responsibility of the group” to protect individuals, even if that entails individual sacrifices. Conservatives think everyone has the right to “make decisions for themselves”—and that the sacrifices liberals propose “are simply not worth the compromise of their liberty.” With each mass shooting, “these oppositional philosophies harden.”
Illustration by Howard McWilliam. Cover photos from AP, Newscom, Everett Collection