What the rest of the world feels like doing now is grabbing America by its lapels and screaming into its fat, florid, stubborn face – But it won’t ever listen anyway. Ever
This is an awful sentence to type in connection with the events in Las Vegas…but this week I could almost have pulled out any of the half-adozen pieces I’ve had printed in these pages on US gun massacres in the last five years.
Aurora (12 dead). Sandy Hook (27 dead). Charleston (nine dead). Orlando (49 dead). San Bernardino (14 dead). And Las Vegas (at least 58 dead). All since I started writing this column in 2012.
And that’s just the big ones. There are more than a dozen other shootings involving three to 10 people in that same time period.
You get numb reciting the list. You get numb with the statistics. And part of you, as a columnist, is worse than numb. Part of you is almost hostile to the idea of writing about it again, knowing as you do beyond all doubt that a column in a Scottish newspaper will have about as much effect on US gun policy as a note written on a piece of toilet paper and thrown into the Atlantic.
You also wonder about the waste of energy too – another voice howling in useless outrage amid the tens of thousands of words of newsprint that Stephen Paddock will draw into himself like a vacuum.
But not to write about what happened in Las Vegas feels insane too.
The details are so familiar at this point that they’ve become cliché. Paddock reads like a character in a badly written novel: The loner, the “quiet” neighbour who “kept himself to himself ”, who “just went about his business”, part of that business being quietly stockpiling the cache of 23 guns his body was surrounded by when the police burst into his hotel room. And, here, the non-American reader almost sits bolt upright in their seat, all of us thinking roughly the same thing: On what planet is it possible for someone to stockpile 23 guns without ringing some alarm bells?
On Planet America, of course. It’s been noted that the US is not so much a country as its own planet. And it is on Planet America – and nowhere else in the “civilised” world – that privately stockpiling dozens of automatic weapons seems to be possible.
One of the privileges (and curses) of being a writer who works from home is the luxury of being able to watch as much wall-to-wall rolling news coverage as you like.
So I sat there on Monday morning, flipping between CNN and Sky News, the BBC and NBC, gradually becoming glazed with horror as the death toll climbed and the pundits talked on.
I witnessed something like the following exchange a couple of times and have paraphrased it here…
“And I think, Jim, the fact someone could check into a hotel with that amount of weaponry, we need to ask serious questions about hotel security…” “Yes. And also about the wisdom of holding large, open-air public events in areas overlooked by high buildings.” That’s right – they were talking about airport-style security in the lobbies of Marriotts and Hiltons. They were talking about banning concerts in public squares. They were talking about everything. Except for BANNING HIGH-POWERED WEAPONS THAT CAN KILL HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE IN MINUTES. My upper case feels justified here. Because that’s what the rest of the world feels like doing now. Grabbing America by its lapels and screaming into its fat, florid, stubborn face: “YOUR WAY IS NOT WORKING.” I tweeted something to this effect and watched in amazement as this (to us) blindingly simple statement of fact got 46,000 retweets, more than 120,000 likes and nearly 2000 comments, many of them from America.
While there was much righteous anger and good sense in these comments, there were also the NRA maniacs. The 2nd Amendment Warriors. The Gun Nuts.
And they were all saying the stuff they always say: “Guns don’t kill people, people do. Cars kill thousands every year – are you going to ban cars? If more people had been armed, they could have stopped him.” And on and on and on.
A foaming sea of idiocy whose cumulative effect is to make you realise this: Americans will never give up their guns. You could have a Las Vegas every week and it would make no difference.
I found myself thinking back to this January. To the unbelievable moment of the maniac’s inauguration. He stood up there, on that cold winter afternoon, and said, his tiny finger stabbing the air for emphasis: “This American carnage stops. Right here, right now…”
Well, as with everything, Trump was wrong. The American carnage will go on and on and on…
A woman weeps at memorial on the Vegas Strip
BAD TASTE An ad for The Vegas Machine Gun Experience last week