Last year after a 29-year-old security guard walked into an Orlando, Fla., gay nightclub and fired off 102 rounds from his semi-automatic rifle and pistol, killing 49 people in what was then considered the worst mass shooting in modern American history, Congress rejected various bipartisan gun control measures — including restricting sales to people on the federal terrorism “watch” list. With Sunday night’s shooting in Las Vegas, which so far has left 58 dead and more than 500 wounded, is there any hope that the country’s leaders will come to their senses and at least seriously consider the wisdom of such a lax approach to weapons of mass destruction?
As awful as the Orlando shooting was, it’s not shocking that its record carnage was exceeded so soon. That’s just been the nature of mass killings in the United States. Mother Jones magazine counted at least 62 mass shootings from 1982 through 2012. A 2014 FBI study found that so-called active shootings have become more than twice as common since 2000. The worst are remembered simply by their locales: Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary, Fort Hood. None have produced serious reform of any kind. If anything, political polarization over gun control has only gotten worse.
What happened in Las Vegas is a tragedy, and those who died, those families who lost loved ones, need time to mourn their losses. America needs time to mourn. We should also take a moment to thank those bystanders and first responders who bravely did what they could for the injured and dying and the police who located the shooter so quickly. Much is not yet known about the alleged gunman, Stephen Paddock, 64, other than his ownership of multiple guns — police found 19 rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in his hotel room — and his bizarre decision to open fire on a country music concert from his hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
President Donald Trump, showing appropriate measure of restraint on Monday, offered prayers and poetry to all Americans. “It is our love that defines us today,” he said, noting also that “answers do not come easy” and that we should pray “for the day evil is banished.” Such healing words are needed as the public seeks to digest the awfulness of what has just transpired. But casting this entirely as the act of one evil-doer ignores a now well-established pattern of mass casualty shootings. Is it just an uncommon amount of evil in the U.S. or is it just an uncommon access to weapons capable of murdering dozens of people in a matter of minutes?
The NRA and its supporters say this isn’t a moment to discuss gun control. It’s what we heard after Orlando, after Columbine and after Tucson when Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot in the head by a young man later diagnosed to be a paranoid schizophrenic. But if not now, when? The “gun rights” crowd is clearly ascendant in Washington these days, but when will the public be sufficiently outraged to demand something better? Surveys show the public is split on “gun control,” but when particular ideas are discussed — background checks on private sales, restricting sales to the mentally ill, banning assault style weapons or large capacity magazine clips — a majority is consistently in favor of making the country safer.
In Maryland, we have taken steps to strengthen such restrictions. Nevada has not. In fact, Nevada is a state generally regarded as having some of the most lax gun control laws in the country. Maryland’s firearm death rate, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is 9 per 100,000 people; Nevada’s rate is 14.7, or about two-thirds higher. People are simply far more likely to die from a gunshot wound in Nevada than they are in most other states. But there is a limit to how much state-by-state restrictions on gun sales can accomplish, as anyone involved in the struggle against violence in Baltimore will tell you.
We grieve for those who lost their lives in Las Vegas, but we also grieve for a country that refuses to look at the circumstances the enable such mass shootings. Denouncing what happened in Vegas while ignoring the proliferation of powerful weapons is as foolish as claiming to be fighting the opioid crisis without actually restricting sales of oxycodone and meperidine. We need more than soothing words right now. We need to demand that President Trump and GOP leaders take real steps to make sure such shootings can be prevented.
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