Las Vegas, Gun Control And The Young

There are at the moment a reported 58 dead and more than 500 injured in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting. That makes it the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in recent American history and a horrific tragedy.

What makes it especially horrifying, in addition to the death toll, is where it happened. Like mass shootings at schools, malls, and other public places, a shooting at a concert is particularly heinous. It catches people in the midst of their daily lives, for no apparent reason. Unlike political shootings, which usually occur at sites or events vested with some sort of special significance, these shootings at routine places target people without regard for their political affiliations, or for anything much at all.

Statistics belie the toll of these tragedies. Such shootings are infectiously terrifying. Their randomness, and the ordinary nature of their sites, leave a grieving population with a sense of still present, inexplicable danger. Worse still, when they target places of entertainment or leisure, shooters try to cow the population from gathering, celebrating, or enjoying themselves. They attempt to wed terror with culture, with entertainment. It’s a perverted and evil effort, essentially a shrinking of the world until it ends at your door stoop.

It’s also an effort that targets the young in particular. Like the Manchester bombings, these attacks disproportionately hurt younger populations engaged in activities typically seen as “youthful.” From elementary school to college to even doctor appointments (remember the Planned Parenthood shooting?) to concerts, mass shootings often target young people going about their lives. That’s extremely dangerous because it creates a worldview for younger (and perhaps more impressionable) generations in which large gatherings and ordinary activities are implicitly dangerous.

Even if you aren’t scared, you’re affected. We hear about these shootings week after week. The numbers don’t impress us anymore as they might have once; at best we shudder at them for surpassing records, but the reality of “58 dead” as 58 real people turned into 58 real corpses within a matter of a few minutes is no longer astounding. It’s just horribly sad.

We have trouble distinguishing between shootings, remembering all of the different towns where they occurred, the people who perpetrated them, and why. Virginia Tech and Columbine and Orlando and Sandy Hook – these stand out. But what about Fort Hood and Isla Vista and Hartford Distributors? You can’t help but grow numb to a never ending chain of the same horror, which is how you come to accept it as being part of reality, part of the world we live in now. Again, this is especially true for the young, who have come to regard schools (where they’re required to be) and concerts (where they’d like to be) as places where large numbers of people might die for no reason. And just like a terror pandemic, this eventual acceptance is itself a concession to evil.

In the aftermath of these tragedies, we come up with a million things we can do to avoid a repeat. We can heighten security, add tighter weapons checks, mandate easier and quick evacuation routes from large sites, even (as terrorists like Stephen Paddock probably wanted) avoid going.

There’s a better answer. We can make sure civilians don’t get their hands on the kind of gun that can kill dozens in minutes. The arguments for this are too frequently repeated and far too obvious to have to repeat in-depth, but here goes. The Second Amendment was written by folks who never anticipated extraordinary advances in weaponry, transforming guns into weapons of mass carnage. The Second Amendment was meant to maintain militias, itself a somewhat outdated concept. The idea that guns could repel government tyranny in an age where the government has tanks and missiles and grenades and SWAT teams and your stereotypical devout NRA member lives in a cabin in the middle of nowhere – well, that would be hilarious if it didn’t end with mounds and mounds of dead civilians. Civilians often too young to drive, drink, or vote. Civilians who haven’t even learned long division.

The fact is that these mass shootings are going to have an outsize impact on younger generations, the first to grow up with them regularly unfolding. The first to grow up believing that airplanes, trains, open spaces, tourist sites, Planned Parenthoods, colleges, concerts, and, yes, elementary schools – are places where people die. Places where it is perfectly normal to have extensive security checks. Places where it might actually be disconcerting not to have security checks.

Reforming gun laws is something our parents’ generation appears keen to punt on. But they aren’t the ones for whom the expression “mass shooting” has always been a normal part of the lexicon, for whom going to school and going to work and going to see a favorite band is plausibly, and consistently, dangerous. Let’s ensure that we step up, should our parents forfeit the chance to do what they should have done ― decades ago. Gun control must become a bipartisan, animating cause for young people, who understand just how terrifying their world stands to be, if they inherit the cowardice or the arms of their parents.

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