The massacre in Las Vegas
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