At around 10 pm on the night of Sunday, October 1, 2017 during a Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, a gunman from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino opened gunfire on the outdoor crowd of 22,000 people below while country singer Jason Aldean performed on stage. The firing lasted for 11 minutes resulting in 59 dead and over 500 injured in what became the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. The shooter was a 64-year-old white man named Stephen Paddock who lived in a Mesquite, Nevada retirement community. By the time police reached his room, he was found dead, having shot himself in the head shortly before. Though he acted alone, Las Vegas police couldn’t find a motive. He had no criminal record or any investigative history showing he was dangerous. But what they did find was an arsenal of 23 guns and a large quantity of ammunition in his hotel room that he had occupied since September 28. The guns consisted of a handgun and 22 rifles including AR-15s, Kalasnikovs, AR 10s, and other .308 caliber rifles. Two of the rifles were mounted with bipods and equipped with telescopic sights. Over half of the guns were modified semi-automatic weapons with bump fire stocks which can simulate full automatic fire. As for the ammunition well, there were numerous high capacity magazines holding up to 100 rounds apiece. Paddock transported all this weapon stash to his hotel suite in over 10 suitcases during his stay and installed hidden cameras inside and out to monitor others’ arrival. Along with 24 other firearms found in Verde and Mesquite, Nevada, they were legally purchased from Nevada, Utah, California, and Texas as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives determined. Several pounds of fertilizer was found in his car. Though we don’t know why Paddock decided to fire upon concertgoers, all the evidence screams he had meticulously planned the whole thing in advance.
Yet, this is one of several major mass shootings the United States has experienced within my own lifetime. I’ve seen the whole scheme play out too many times in the same tragic and senseless song and dance routine. First, you have a gunman fire upon unsuspecting individuals at a public venue resulting in a high death and injury count and feelings of tear jerking shock and horror. What follows is the public in grips of mourning as further details of the shooter unfold along with tributes of victims such as thoughts and prayers. You might get plenty of public figures calling out for gun control. Only for those supporting gun rights decry how it’s inappropriate to debate about gun control in a tragedy’s aftermath. As time goes on, the story starts to fade and everyone moves on. Until the next shooting occurs to start the whole cycle over again. But whether it’s a black church, a movie theater, elementary school, workplace, nightclub, military base, college, or outdoor concert venue, too many Americans refuse to learn the harsh lessons of the costs lax gun laws. In fact, many states have enacted pro-gun legislation that make guns more readily available. Whenever it comes to causes of gun violence, gun rights advocates usually find some other excuse like mental health, violent video games, moral decay, sanctuary cities, and anything else. Anything but guns. Then they say how the Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms which shouldn’t be infringed. And that gun control restricts freedom by giving the federal government license to seize firearms from law-abiding citizens. Such concepts are blatant lies. But they’ve resulted in devastating consequences. The Centers for Disease Control has been banned from researching gun violence since 1996. President Barack Obama’s Surgeon General received outcry for framing gun violence as a public health issue. Attempts to pass even the most minimal gun controls laws have gone nowhere in Congress.
Meanwhile, gun violence touches every segment of our society endangering Americans every day. There have been 1,500 mass shootings since the 2012 Sandy Hook Massacre. On average the United States experiences more than one mass shooting a day. Gun violence claims 31 American deaths and 151 injuries every day. For every American who dies from a gunshot wound, two others are wounded. And for each American shot, people’s lives are forever changed by their loved ones’ deaths and injuries. Annual costs for gun violence amount to at least $229 billion including $8.6 billion in direct expenses like emergency medical care. Gun violence increases likelihood of deaths in domestic violence incidents. It raises the chances of fatalities by those intending to injure others and among those attempting suicide. It places children and young people at special risk. And like most of America’s social problems, it disproportionately affects communities of color. If gun violence isn’t a public health crisis in the US, I don’t know what is.
Too many times we’ve been told after a mass shooting that discussing gun control is taboo. Too many times “thoughts and prayers” has proven too insufficient for the real action to prevent mass shootings. Too many times has the Second Amendment been viewed as a sacred cow by gun advocates and the National Rifle Association. Too many times our leaders have done nothing to prevent future mass shootings that it’s only a matter a time when the next one takes place. It’s already been way past time to talk about gun violence, especially for the hundreds of Americans who died at the pull of the trigger. Or all those who struggle with disabilities, lingering injuries, and PTSD thanks to some guy with a gun he shouldn’t even have. Whenever there’s a national problem that’s put Americans at risk, our nation has done something about it. Politicians have worked tirelessly to instill regulations to protect people from further harm and make sure those deaths and injuries don’t happen again. But somehow whenever there’s a mass shooting it’s different when it shouldn’t be.
Regardless of what Bill O’Reilly said, gun violence shouldn’t be the cost of freedom in America. Even in a country as gun obsessed as the United States, our society should never accept or normalize mass murder as a price of freedom. We should never accept the meaningless slaughter of children, loved ones, friends, and other living their peaceful lives for those who want to possess military grade weapons in the name of their personal freedom. It’s not freedom when you can’t go to a public space without worrying about how some psycho can easily buy semi-automatic weapons with high capacity magazines showering bullets to kill scores of innocents within minutes. True freedom is knowing we’re reasonably safe from such nutcases with these weapons. If more guns resulted in less gun violence, then the United States would be one of the safest nations in the world and we wouldn’t need to worry about mass shootings. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t work that way since the latest validated statistics confirms that more guns leads to more deadly violence. So the fact the US has one of the highest rates of gun violence and leads the world in mass shootings shouldn’t be a surprise. There is no legitimate reason why semi-automatic weapons with high capacity magazines and bump stocks should be available to the general public and carried around all over the place. If we want to ensure people’s true freedom and safety, we must work hard to make sure these killing machines are out of civilians’ hands. And ensure that those prone to violence don’t have access to a gun in the first place. We can prevent the next mass shooting and the tragic loss of life. The question is whether we’re willing to do so. But as far as I’m concerned, we need to discuss gun violence and implement common sense gun control measures now. Because if we don’t, then how many senseless tragedies must we have to bear before we do something?