Why Have We Stopped Talking About Gun Laws?
On Oct. 1, 2017, gunfire erupted from a top floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, raining bullets on hundreds of citizens assembled for an outdoor country music festival. Fifty-eight people died, and as police raided the room of gunman Stephen Paddock, the shooter himself was killed in the ensuing confusion, bringing the death toll to 59.
In Las Vegas, a big city with a huge heart, the scars remain. Revelers rang in 2018 with an increased police presence, and partygoers celebrated with one eye on the neighboring hotels. The celebratory fireworks display — launched from the rooftops of seven different hotels down the Vegas Strip — rang defiantly against the similar explosions still held in recent memory. In a crowd of 330,000 all the way down Las Vegas Boulevard, you could hear murmurs: smallest possible surface area, curl into a ball, flatten yourself on the ground.
In the city of gambling, hitting the strip on New Year’s Eve — or, indeed, any weekend — now feels like one more game of chance. Thousands of people, both tourists and locals, crowd the sidewalks and bridges. Security is constantly alert, but there are no metal detectors at most casinos, and Nevada, like so many other states, allows open carrying of firearms. Machine guns, large-capacity magazines and assault rifles: all legal within the city limits.
Not in Isolation
If the Las Vegas shooting was an outlying event, an isolated tragedy, examining the causes might not be necessary. We treat the incident as precisely such: Paddock did not follow many of the classic warning signs of shooters. He was not a bullied student, nor a religious extremist, nor was he suffering from any diagnosed mental disorders.
The regular rhetoric and politicking that follows in the wake of mass shootings faded remarkably quickly, especially considering that this shooting is the largest in history.
However, in the sweep of mass shootings, which started in 1966 with Charles Whitman at the Dallas University clock tower, the Vegas tragedy is one more dot on an increasingly plastered graph. First Dallas, then Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Orlando and so many more. Nowhere is sacred. Churches, temples, preschools, nightclubs — all have been targets in the past decade.
America is not only the country with the worst gun violence: It is the country with the greatest variety of potential targets. Liberals and conservatives alike face the horror of a mass shooting.
The Way Forward
As with most issues plaguing our country, the way forward is through mutual respect and understanding, as well as compromise. Nobody, Republican, Democrat, liberal or conservative, wishes to continue the violence of these past decades. The big question is how to prevent future tragedies and protect individual rights. Aggression and antagonism will do nothing to improve our country, especially on this issue.
The first step is to keep talking about this subject. We only seem to talk about stricter gun control laws after major shootings, and then the interest fades. The mainstream media has, more or less, stopped talking about this at the moment, but it’s still so important for us to keep discussing solutions to our flawed gun laws.
The widespread silence and censoring of the gun-control discussion by the right wing of our country is easily as damaging. Using a perverted sort of guilt trip to shut down dialogue following a tragedy is like refusing to discuss security measures after someone burglarizes your building.
When nearly 60 people die and almost 500 others are injured in a single event, we need to talk about it. The victims and their families don’t just want our condolences — they want a system that will prevent future attacks.
Thus, we come to a difficult crossroads, and one that cannot proceed without the cooperation of all members of the political spectrum. It is clear that our current web of state-level gun control laws is not working. The increasing rate at which mass shootings are occurring is both terrifying and indicative of the future, assuming nothing changes.
Again and again, we return to the status quo as though nothing has happened, as though there aren’t 59 people whose lives were cut short after just a few minutes of completely unregulated mayhem.
Smart legislation will take a long time and will, at times, become confusing and frustrating for both sides. But we will walk away from the table knowing our country is safer than before, and our citizens are not unduly oppressed.