Fifty-eight dead and counting; 500 sent to hospitals. The deadliest mass shooting in modern American history took place Oct. 1 in Las Vegas, as a lone gunman firing from a window on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel savaged a crowd gathered to watch a country music show. It was, as one observer noted, like shooting fish in a barrel. The automatic rifle fire lasted for minutes. The shooter didn’t really have to aim; he only had to pull the trigger.
We watch scenes of the massacre on our TVs. The crowd panics and begins to run. The police run toward the shooter, even though their guns cannot reach him and their vests cannot protect them from his military ammunition. Their valor no doubt saves lives.
This is an act of domestic terrorism. The killer apparently acted alone. He had been in the hotel for four days; authorities report he had about 10 guns with him. We will learn more about him, his idiosyncrasies and motivations, as authorities probe for what led him to commit this heinous act. The shooter was a white male. His relatives express shock that he could do this.
If he had been an African-American, there would be a rush to connect this to the demonstrations for equality. If he had been an immigrant, it would have stoked our fears of the stranger. If it were a foreign terrorist, it would be an act of war. (The Islamic State didn’t hesitate to claim “credit” for the act, although authorities say there is no evidence at this point to support that claim.) Instead, the search will focus on what created the madness inherent in this act of mass murder and suicide.
In the Bible, Jesus asks, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye but fail to notice the beam in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). Even as the authorities investigate the mental health of the killer, we need to question our own collective insanity. Why are military assault weapons not banned in the United States as they once were? Why do we accept such easy access to guns? Nevada has no gun control laws; it is an open-carry state. Rifles are part of the West’s rural culture. Las Vegas, the sin city of casinos and alcohol, might want to put limits on guns, perhaps requiring them to be checked as they once were in the towns of the old West. The state legislature, however, has prohibited any municipality from passing its own gun control laws.
No foreign power is as much a threat to us as we are to one another. There is no sanctuary. No place is safe. A Bible study class in Charleston, S.C. A movie theater in Aurora, Colo. A nightclub in Orlando, Fla. College campuses across the country.
Twenty children were shot dead at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. Members of Congress have been shot. President Reagan and his aides were shot. His press secretary, James Brady, formed a group to push sensible gun control laws. But our addiction to guns continues.
After Las Vegas, we should have a national day of prayer. We need a greater wisdom to break our addiction to guns. We make more guns, sell more guns and buy more guns than any other developed country. We also lose the most lives to gun violence.
We have learned to adjust to this addiction. We accept it. When terrorists attacked the Twin Towers on 9/11, we did not adjust. We resented the attack and we resisted.
Yet as the toll of domestic terror keeps rising, we simply pray for the victims, shrug our shoulders and move on. The Republican candidate for the Senate in Alabama flashes a gun before a campaign rally and gets a big laugh and loud applause.
If we chose to resist the addiction, we could change. We could teach nonviolence and conflict resolution in schools. We could ban military-style assault weapons. We could allow cities to pass far more restrictive gun control measures than rural areas. We could stop peddling a glorified culture of guns and violence in our movies and television. We could make certain that mental health services were accessible and affordable. We could change the cultural morays to help define and enforce acceptable behavior.
Will this country remain addicted to guns? Will it remain impossible to end the easy access to guns? Nothing will change unless we collectively decide we are not going to adjust to this reality. It is time to resist.