Comment: Trump left tongue-tied because he is part of problem
LAS Vegas is the city that perhaps most obviously symbolises America’s love affair with the world of entertainment. Its themed hotels, the residencies of huge music stars, the casinos, the coloured illuminations: pulled together they offer the chance to be thrilled and, if you’re lucky, get rich – all under the gaze of a thousand fluorescent light bulbs.
Now, however, Vegas is facing up to a much darker reality following the death of dozens of concertgoers at the hands of a mass murderer. The city that styles itself as the entertainment capital of the world is also now the holder of a much less wanted title as the site of America’s deadliest shooting.
In the immediate aftermath of the killings, seemingly perpetrated by a man shooting into a crowd from his hotel room, thoughts turn to those who have died or been injured, and to the emergency services who have faced a scene of barely imaginable horror.
How, we must all wonder, could a person inflict such deliberate pain and suffering on people innocently enjoying a musical show? It is a question we have asked in the UK this year too.
Donald Trump took to Twitter to offer his “warm condolences” to the victims, in a turn of phrase that was archetypically odd. Notably he made no immediate comment about the identity of the killer, said to be a local white man in his sixties, who does not fit Trump’s vision of a terrorist. There will be much debate about Trump’s reaction and about the terminology used to describe this tragedy.
Unavoidable too will be a reopening of that grand old American pastime: debating whether gun laws are to blame for a massacre.
The regulations in Nevada are lax, even by US standards. Permits and licences are, it seems, an unnecessary burden for people who want to hang around town tooled up to the nines. State law makes no particular reference to automatic weapons of the sort which appear to have been used in this incident, although federal legislation prohibits the possession of fully automatic weapons unless they were registered before
In some ways though, the legal minutiae can be a distraction. The basic facts are that gun homicides in America run into the thousands every year – more than 12,000 in 2015, up markedly on the previous year. The number of suicides by shooting is also staggering: more than 22,000 in 2015. All in all, up to
100,000 people annually will die or be injured as the result of gun use. All four of the biggest mass killings have happened in the past decade.
True, America’s annual firearm-related death rate
(10.54 per 100,000 of population in 2014) compares well to some other countries – if those other countries happen to be Brazil (21.2) or El Salvador (45.6 in 2011). But set against France (2.83 in
2012), the UK (0.23 in 2011) or Australia (0.93 in 2013), it would take an ideologue or a madman to conclude that US gun policy is serving the country well.
President Obama recognised the lunacy of America’s attitude to guns. His rage at the deaths witnessed during his time in office became ever more apparent with every highprofile shooting; yet the rage was matched only by his inability to bring about sufficiently substantive change.
Obama’s successor is not cut from the same cloth; indeed, he has rallied the gun lobby to his side, declaring in a speech to the National Rifle Association (NRA) in April that his election had brought an “eight-year assault” on gun ownership rights to a “crashing end”. He has regularly trotted out the line beloved of those who support
the right to bear arms – that if more people carried weapons there would be more “good guys” around to head off the “bad guys” when they strike. It is intellectual gibberish of the highest order.
The other favoured mantra of the NRA and its fans is that “it isn’t guns that kill, it’s humans”, which would be laughable for its disingenuousness if the consequences weren’t so severe.
Trump will doubtless tell the world that this incident was the act of a lone wolf, perhaps a man who was mentally unstable. Maybe we will find out that the killer had access to an unlawful weapon. We may find he had ideological motives too.
Trump will find excuses to avoid pinning responsibility on the US’s constitutional attachment to deadly firearms.
The truth that Trump will not face up to is that America’s disastrous relationship with guns is getting worse.
Indeed, he cannot face up to it; because he, the entertainer-president, arch-appeaser of the gun lobby, is part of the problem.
People take cover at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada as the gunman fires round after round. Photo: David Becker/Getty Images