The Night Vegas Cried

Las Vegas Strip
Las Vegas Strip

A few days ago, a madman rained down bullets from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas on people attending an outdoor music festival and killed almost 60 people and injured hundreds. The city of Las Vegas and the world cried for the injured and mourned for the many victims gone to soon. In the wake of this horrific event it is time for America to enact legislative reforms to prevent mass shootings.

This tragedy has been described as the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, and the shooter, Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old retiree who took his own life when law enforcement personnel breached the hotel room he was barricaded in has been denounced by our elected leaders and others as sick, evil, demented, a psychopath, and a coward.

Unfortunately, what we have not heard is a strong bipartisan proposal to impose reasonable restrictions on the purchase and possession of the type of assault weapons used to kill and maim the unsuspecting concert goers in Las Vegas. Instead of addressing the issue of gun control politicians have disingenuously claimed that now is not the time to talk about this issue, and instead we should be more concerned with offering comfort and support to the grieving.

My question is: If not now, then when do we address this issue? How can we look at the bereaved and broken-hearted who lost loved ones to a madman’s unfathomable desire for death and destruction and not realize that we owe them so much more than platitudes and kind words?

We owe them answers. How could a retired accountant amass a stock pile of weapons, including semi-automatic rifles without anyone noticing that he was planning a massacre? How was Paddock able to purchase almost thirty-three guns within the past year without anyone asking WHY?

How was he able to legally purchase a “bump stock,” a device which is only used to convert a semi-automatic into an illegal automatic weapon capable of rapidly firing rounds of bullets and killing more victims? Not only do we need to answer these questions, we need to take decisive action to prevent this from happening again.

Because of easy access to firearms America has more homicide deaths than any other developed nation. Americans comprise only 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but own almost half of the civilian owned guns in the world.[1] According to statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2014 more than 33,000 Americans died from gun violence homicides.

The number of mass shootings in America far exceeds mass shootings in other developed countries. On average in America we have one mass shooting a day, which is defined as an incident where at least four people are fired upon.[2] Each time a mass shooting occurs we express outrage and anger at the shooters, but fail to follow through with legislative reforms to prevent these shootings.

In December 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut a young man with a long history of mental illness killed his mother, and then murdered twenty-six people, including twenty first graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School. As a nation we mourned the loss of the innocents who died at Sandy Hook. The horror of the senseless slaughter of little children deeply grieved our souls and made us pray to God for answers, in the way we desperately search for answers when there is no rational explanation for the unthinkable. Unfortunately, the Sandy Hook tragedy did not result in any significant legislative reforms. Since Sandy Hook, we have had more than 1,500 mass shootings, with at least 1,715 people killed and 6,089 wounded.[3]

The National Rifle Association (NRA) and its supporters argue that the second amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees citizens the right to keep and bear arms. The second amendment was drafted in 1791, when citizens were responsible for their own defense and militia men still used single shot muskets and rifles that were unreliable and difficult to reload. The drafters of the constitution could never have envisioned the technology that exists today that allowed “a lone wolf” shooter with an automatic weapon to kill and injure hundreds of people in 10 minutes.

Additionally, the right to keep and bear arms is not unlimited. The Supreme Court has considered this issue and decided that the second amendment does not bar the government from imposing reasonable restrictions on gun ownership.[4]

In the aftermath of a mass shooting such as this we search for answers about the motivation of the shooter. In this case the investigation is ongoing, and we still don’t know whether Paddock was a terrorist under the influence of foreign terror groups; motivated by a misguided allegiance to some political or religious ideology, or suffering from some form of insanity that made him see enemies where none existed. We do know that like all mass shooters he was a man with real or imagined grievances, who conceived a monstrous plan to exact vengeance by killing as many innocent people as possible.

In this case, the motivation of the shooter is not as important as our response. We have had far too many mass shootings in the United States to continue to express outrage without action. It is past time to demand that our political leaders enact laws that will impose reasonable restrictions on gun ownership, such as universal background checks and restrictions on assault weapons and devices that are designed to make those weapons deadlier. We can’t do otherwise when the blood of the innocent still stains the glittering streets of Las Vegas, and our remembrance of the night that Vegas cried is forever seared in our collective memory.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008).