The nation awakened Monday morning to learn that once again a man — and it’s almost always a man — has committed what appears to be the most American of acts, using military-style firearms to kill a staggering number of people. Not in self-defense, not in the heat of battle, but in pursuit of some inchoate goal.
Police say 64-year-old Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nev., a quiet desert town about 70 miles up Interstate 15 from Las Vegas, holed himself up with at least 10 rifles on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, and rained bullets into a crowd of 22,000 people at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival across the Vegas Strip. The carnage ended when Paddock killed himself before a SWAT team blew open the hotel room door.
Paddock’s motive? Unknown at this point, but does it even matter? It was a horrific act that numbs the senses, and has in the span of a few minutes taken an unfathomable death toll and delivered pain and grief to hundreds of families. Our hearts go out to them.
What motive can put such an atrocious act into a comprehensible framework? At least 58 killed and so many injured — more than 500 is the current estimate — that it took police most of the night to come up with that estimate as the bleeding and the near-dead flooded hospital emergency rooms. And in the sick arithmetic the country has become too accustomed to, as the number of the dead goes up, the number of wounded will come down.
Messages of shock and support have poured out in what has become an almost Pavlovian national ritual. But as a nation, do we have any more prayers and thoughts to offer? Is this, as musician David Gray once sang, just so much meaningless movement of the jaws? We will hear shortly — count on it; it’s another part of our sickness — that this is not the right time to talk about gun control, and about our armed-to-the-teeth culture. But this is exactly the right time. As is tomorrow. And next week. And next month and, if we ever regain our collective sanity, on Election Day.
It was stunning to read the flash news updates when the death toll passed 50 that the Vegas mass shooting broke an American record, out-slaughtering Orlando, Fla.’s, Pulse nightclub rampage last year. Does Las Vegas get a medal for that? Is this a challenge to the deranged in other cities to do even better?
The National Rifle Association is as bloodstained today as the concert grounds in Las Vegas. Its undue influence on Congress, and some representatives’ and senators’ delusions of what the 2nd Amendment really means, have landed us in these straits. The gun lobby argues military-style weapons are necessary for hunting, and for sport shooting. Sunday night, we saw such weapons used for their real purpose — to kill a large number of people in a very short time. These are weapons of war, not of sport, and to argue otherwise is to either lie, or to not understand the difference. Neither is acceptable.
Will we again now hear the canard that if the folks who showed up to dance to country music under the stars Sunday had been carrying firearms themselves, the death toll would have been smaller? That’s the other line the gun lobby tosses out in moments like these — another part of our dark ritual of mass murder.
One of the questions police will try to answer, and that will frame the ensuing debate, is whether Paddock obtained his firearms legally. Does that even matter at this point? The question that needs addressing is why we allow such weapons in the hands of civilians in the first place. But we’ve asked ourselves that question time and again, and the answer is that we lack the political will to stop it. More broadly, our nation is awash in firearms — by some estimates, the United States has more guns than people, and Wall Street investors on Monday drove up the stock prices of gunmakers.
So some are profiting from our sickness. And we let them. We might not be able to control the violent impulses of our fellow Americans, but we certainly should limit the scope of firearms available to them. That we, as a body politic, accept such weapons among us means that this is who we, as a nation, choose to be: Armed and dangerous.