The mas­sacre in Las Ve­gas

The Week - - Front Page -

At first, Derek Bernard mis­took the bangs for fire­works. Like many oth­ers in the 22,000-strong au­di­ence at the fes­ti­val in Las Ve­gas on Sun­day night, he as­sumed it was part of the grand fi­nale of the three-day Route 91 Har­vest coun­try mu­sic fes­ti­val. “It was so many shots – it sounded like the fourth of July – just pop, pop, pop, pop, pop,” he told Guy Adams in the Daily Mail. “I didn’t think it was real.” The coun­try star Ja­son Aldean, who had just be­gun his set, ap­pears to have been sim­i­larly con­fused: he car­ried on singing through the first round of bangs, be­fore sud­denly throw­ing down his guitar and rush­ing off stage. An eerie si­lence fell over the crowd. And then a sec­ond hail of bul­lets rained down on them, and pan­de­mo­nium broke out. “It was hys­te­ria,” one sur­vivor told The Guardian. “There were peo­ple be­ing tram­pled. We jumped walls, climbed cars, ran for our lives. I’ve never run that hard or been that scared in my life.” Wit­nesses saw peo­ple throw­ing them­selves on top of loved ones to shield them, drag­ging the in­jured to safety, and us­ing their fin­gers to plug the bul­let holes in vic­tims’ bod­ies.

It took Stephen Pad­dock around 11 min­utes to carry out the dead­li­est mass shoot­ing in mod­ern Amer­i­can his­tory, killing 59 peo­ple and in­jur­ing 527. From his room on the 32nd floor of the Man­dalay Bay ho­tel, 400 yards from the con­cert ground, he used a stash of at least ten as­sault ri­fles to spray bul­lets into the crowd. By the time Swat teams man­aged to get into his room, us­ing ex­plo­sives to blow open the door, he had killed him­self. Pad­dock’s mo­tives re­main a mys­tery, said The Times. A former ac­coun­tant who had made mil­lions from prop­erty deals, the 64-year-old lived in a sleepy re­tire­ment vil­lage in Ne­vada with his Aus­tralian girl­friend. He had no known men­tal health prob­lems, and his only vice ap­pears to have been gam­bling. His brother Eric said he had no idea what could have driven him to mur­der: “He wasn’t an avid gun guy at all. Where the hell did he get mil­i­tary weapons?”

Alas, that much is eas­ily ex­plained, said the LA Times. The Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion (NRA) “has spent decades fight­ing to put more guns into the hands of Amer­i­cans with as few re­stric­tions as pos­si­ble”. There are now around 310 mil­lion firearms in pri­vate hands – more guns than US adults. The NRA in­sists that be­ing armed makes us safer, but the facts say oth­er­wise. Since 1968, more Amer­i­cans have died from gun­shots in their own coun­try (1.51 mil­lion deaths) than in all Amer­ica’s wars com­bined (1.39 mil­lion). Un­til 2004, there was at least a fed­eral ban on as­sault weapons, in­clud­ing the kind of semi-au­to­matic guns that can be adapted into makeshift ma­chine guns. But since that leg­is­la­tion lapsed, Congress – in thrall to the NRA’S mas­sive cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions and po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence – has re­jected ev­ery at­tempt to re­new it. The NRA ar­gues that “mil­i­tary-style weapons are nec­es­sary for hunt­ing”. But any­one who has seen the video footage of Sun­day’s mas­sacre “and heard the rat-tat-tat of rapid-fire guns will recog­nise im­me­di­ately that these are weapons of war, not of sport”.

The “usual ghouls” have rushed to de­liver gun-con­trol speeches from “atop the corpses” of the slain, said the Na­tional Re­view. But it is far from clear that the mea­sures they pro­pose could pre­vent these “hor­ri­fy­ing” crimes. Pad­dock is be­lieved to have passed back­ground checks to buy a semi-au­to­matic weapon, that he then mod­i­fied to turn it into an au­to­matic weapon. The fact is, that when peo­ple are bent on com­mit­ting hor­rific vi­o­lent crimes, they will find a way re­gard­less of the law. The only re­ally ef­fec­tive way to pre­vent such mas­sacres would be to ban the sale of all guns and con­fis­cate all those al­ready in pri­vate own­er­ship, said Brian Do­herty on Rea­son.com. The US gov­ern­ment could try im­ple­ment­ing some­thing like Aus­tralia’s “Na­tional Buy-back” scheme – a highly ef­fec­tive re­sponse to 1996’s mass shoot­ing in Port Arthur. But con­fis­cat­ing Amer­ica’s guns would be more dif­fi­cult, and far more con­tro­ver­sial, per­haps lead­ing to “se­vere civil un­rest”.

The gov­ern­ment’s cur­rent po­si­tion on gun con­trol is “not paral­ysed, but worse”, said Doyle Mcmanus in the LA Times. The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives is pre­par­ing to pass the so-called Sports­men’s Her­itage and Recre­ational En­hance­ment Act, which will le­galise the sale of ar­mour-pierc­ing bul­lets, as long as the man­u­fac­turer states that they are in­tended for sport­ing pur­poses, and loosen long-stand­ing fed­eral reg­u­la­tions on si­lencers. Both mea­sures would make mass shoot­ings eas­ier and dead­lier. This is more than just bad pol­icy; it is a be­trayal of the Amer­i­can peo­ple. “The first duty of any gov­ern­ment is to pro­tect its cit­i­zens from evil as best it can.”

“It was hys­te­ria, there were peo­ple be­ing tram­pled. We jumped walls, climbed cars, ran for our lives”

Fes­ti­val-go­ers en­dured 11 min­utes of ter­ror

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