Musings

The Reality of Mass Shootings

November 8, 2017

Recently, the U.S. was rocked by another mass shooting, this one in Las Vegas. As of this writing, there were 58 confirmed dead, and at least five hundred injured from gunshots and other wounds inflicted during the panic and stampede that was triggered by the gunfire. Those assembled were there for a country music festival. The gunman was identified as Stephen Paddock, a retired accountant. Paddock had a stockpile of 23 weapons inside his hotel suite overlooking the Strip, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Las Vegas hotel windows don’t open, but Paddock smashed his in order to begin firing. He’d also set up cameras inside his suite and outside in the hallway, presumably to monitor anyone who might be approaching before he began his slaughter of those gathered below. When cops approached his room, he killed himself with one of his own weapons.

Now, the questions will begin, as they always must when something like this happens. It appears that Paddock acted alone, though obviously the authorities will continue to probe into his personal life to see if he had any accomplices or aid from known terrorist groups. In the early going, nothing at all had been turned up, and that’s one of the weirdest things to be taken from this. Paddock does not appear to have been overtly religious. He didn’t have an extensive criminal history, or a history of mental illness. His brother described him as “just a guy,” and, barring some new revelation, that seems to be the crux of the matter. Here we have “just a guy” who built up a cache of weapons and seems to have meticulously planned wholesale, indiscriminate slaughter. The amount of guns, ammunition, explosives components found in the hotel room, and the camera setup clearly indicates that this wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment type of thing. This person knew what he was doing. His seemingly unobtrusive lifestyle and lack of any obvious motive almost makes this more awful and infuriating. Why did Paddock do what he did? What makes “just a guy” into the latest worst mass shooter in U.S. history, eclipsing the 49 killed at the nightclub in Orlando a couple of years ago?

I’ve written before about how mass shootings and acts of terrorism, whether for religious reasons or seemingly for no obvious reason at all, are just a part of the modern fabric in the America of the 21st century. It’s a grim thing to think about, because it lends just a little extra uncertainty to life. It can seemingly happen anywhere, at any time. Attacks at schools, churches, or sporting events…murder by explosives, guns, bladed weapons, vehicles driven into crowds…it’s real, and it keeps right on happening. Nor is it restricted to the U.S., of course. Europe has been getting hit particularly hard in the past decade, but it really does seem to be anywhere, anytime.

My previous conclusions regarding this matter haven’t been particularly decisive, because there doesn’t seem to be any immediate and obvious action that can be taken that will solve the problem. Gun control seems like a good first step, but how would that have helped, when you’ve got a guy who had no history of mental illness, made no alarming posts on social media, and whose acquaintances describe him as having a benign personality? Besides, even if harsher gun laws are enacted in the U.S., it’s not like we can very well ban vehicles, or knives, or anything else that can be used to murder. I mean, hell, anything  can be used as a lethal weapon. You can jab somebody in the throat with a pen if you want to; you can brain somebody with a rock. Are we going to start outlawing rocks, now?

The unfortunate reality is that when there’s a crime on this scale, with no obvious cause, it seems as though it would have been impossible to predict beforehand. Maybe we’ll find some obscure motive for what Paddock did…maybe it will turn out he hated country music, or something…but as of right now, there are no answers, and even if there were, they probably wouldn’t be much consolation to the grieving families of those slain. In my opinion, I think humans are just bloodthirsty and depraved, and looking at history, they always have been. It does seem true that in this era, there is a certain brand of violence that seems to be manifesting itself a lot. Much of it is being done for fundamentalist religion, just as has always been the case. But some of it seems to come about for no easily identifiable reason, and when there is a “lone gunman,” as is the case with Paddock, the question of why can be asked over and over, by pundits and politicians, by family and clergy members, and there’s no answer that will ever entirely satisfy.

What’s truly frightening is how passé it seems to have become. Perhaps Paddock simply wanted some form of recognition, and he thought the best way to do it was to try and take the new high score as the biggest mass murderer in U.S. history. If that was his goal, he accomplished it. The saddest part is, in this world in which we’re all living, I doubt he’d going to successfully hold that title for very long. There will be a next time…the only questions are where the terror is going to strike next, and how much worse it’s going to be.

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