Stephen Paddock had 10 rifles and other weapons in his Las Vegas hotel room, police said, and apparently used one of them to take his own life after allegedly killing more than 50 people and wounding more than 500 in a deadly attack from his 32nd-floor room, firing on a crowd gathered below for a country music concert.
This horror will grip and mystify Americans for days and weeks, the worst mass shooting in American history. Just thinking about it prompts inexplicable shared pain for all Americans.
The crowd gathered, after all, in a town that sells itself on fun, on adventure, on escape. Millions and millions of Americans have visited “Vegas,” if only for a bargain weekend, or a convention, or to go to the one place identified more than any other for gambling. Las Vegas has been the setting of television shows, and of movies. It was in part a creation of organized crime, which saw an opportunity to profit from vice and adventure.
But now ... Las Vegas will be known in part as a killing field. And while it appears Paddock was not a terrorist in the way we in America have come to think of them, he was a terrorist in the sense that he brought terror not just to Las Vegas but to the nation. Across the country, there are mass gatherings virtually every day, and for a time, people are going to think about whether or not such things are safe for them and their children.
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Was Paddock’s act random and crazy? Yes, probably, and it’s true that tens of millions of Americans go about the business of work and leisure in crowds all day, every day. But many thousands of them will be affected by this tragedy. Each of the victims will be mourned by hundreds of friends and family members; each of those mourners will share their grief with hundreds more.
It remains to be seen how someone who could act in this way managed to acquire so many high-powered weapons, but anyone who dares to even ask that question will be dismissed by the “gun lobby” that resists additional regulation in the name of freedom — and does so even when 20 children die in a school in Newtown, scores are slaughtered in an Orlando nightclub and assault rifle fire sweeps a field where Congressmen and others are preparing for a softball game.
In his Inaugural Address, President Trump said, “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” But he has done nothing to stop this particularly American form of carnage: the unstable and the aggrieved blasting away on crowds with weapons made not for hunting, but for war.
Indeed, the president has embraced the agenda of the National Rifle Association that helped end a ban on assault rifles. The president who said he would end the carnage in America also told the NRA’s Leadership Forum in Atlanta in April, “The eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end. You have a true friend and champion in the White House.”
The debate on gun rights will be renewed by the Las Vegas slaughter of concertgoers, and one hopes a constructive discussion will ensue from the halls of legislatures to the halls of Congress.
Yet, before that debate again splits the nation, Americans everywhere join the families of these innocent victims in mourning and prayer.