Witnesses described the sound as firecrackers. Many listening to the recordings of this week’s Las Vegas massacre likened the sound to a military battle. For myself, my first thought as I listened to the three bursts of gunfire that over the course of two minutes robbed, at latest count, 59 innocents of their lives was, “How could this happen?”
Judging from social media postings in the hours following 64-year-old Stephen Paddock’s attack on the Route 91 Harvest Festival, a lot of us were trying to make sense of the carnage.
Some said such evil had to be inspired by Islam and clung to now-disproven dispatches from such questionable sources as friends’ Twitter feeds saying that Paddock had converted.
Others looked at the tragedy through a political lens and clung to now-disproven dispatches from such questionable sources as alt-right news sites saying that the real shooter was an anti-Trump Democrat with a different name.
The last thing on many people’s minds, it seems, was that the shooter would end up being a retired, middle-class, white accountant. In other words, few even contemplated that one responsible for the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history would be more quintessentially “American” than the tens of thousands of minority immigrants who arrive each year or the millions of non-Judeo-Christian citizens who also call this country home.
That’s a problem, because what happened in Las Vegas is unfortunately as American as apple pie, and will be until we as a country figure out how to prevent this particular kind of violence that has become all too common.
Of the 10 deadliest mass shootings, six have occurred since the turn of the current century: Seung-Hui Cho claimed 33 lives in Blacksburg, Va., in 2007; Nidal Hasan killed 13 in Fort Hood, Texas, two years later; Adam Lanza executed 28, 20 of them children, in Newtown, Conn., in 2012; radicalized couple Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik murdered 14 in San Bernardino, Calif., in 2015; and Omar Mateen mowed down 49 in Orlando, Fla., a year later, all before Paddock outfitted his sniper’s nest on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino with enough weapons for a small platoon.
Some of these shooters were officially classified as terrorists, but chalking up the violence to the influence of Islamic terrorism doesn’t answer for the massacres at the Sandy Hook Elementary School and Virginia Tech. We should instead focus on our nation’s penchant for putting military-style assault rifles in the hands of private citizens.
The gun lobby is quick to point to the Second Amendment and its guarantee of the people’s “right to bear arms.” Organizations such as the NRA vociferously decry any attempt to regulate the purchase of firearms as improperly infringing upon that right. And they chalk American gun ownership up to nothing more than a sportsman’s hobby, collector’s pursuit or person’s self-defense.
But nothing about their arguments needs to be false in order to also understand that constitutional rights are not unqualified and that there is little legitimate reason for anyone to be in the possession of machine guns.
Nevada state Sen. Don Gustavson told the BBC’s Newshour program Oct. 3 that the events in Las Vegas had done nothing to change his mind that regulations of firearms are unnecessary. If someone is going to come up to him in a dark alley, Gustavson posited, he wants to be able to defend himself.
That kind of self-defense can be accomplished with a handgun, and an AK-47 is just as likely to kill whatever innocent bystanders happen to be unlucky enough to be in the vicinity.
Gustavson also pointed to the very real concern among the Constitution’s framers that the people should have a means to check the power of an oppressive government. But we have long ensured that our military retains a qualitative — and quantitative — edge against any potential opponent, just as we’ve seen fit to prevent civilians’ access to other types of weapons.
When it comes to constitutional rights, there’s also the First Amendment right to free speech and to petition the government for “redress of grievances.” But we don’t allow someone to cry “fire” in a crowded theater; arming yourself with a modified fully automatic firearm, as Paddock apparently did, would appear to be even more of a clear and present danger to the country.
After Newtown, we all said this would be the last. After Orlando, we all said this would be the last. Now, we are again saying this will be the last.
But it won’t be unless we as a nation finally enact sensible regulation that is both respectful of the Second Amendment and of the equally important directive in the Constitution’s preamble: “to ensure domestic tranquility.”
Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at [email protected]