As I looked out my window Monday night, I saw that the Empire State Building went dark in memory of the 58 victims of the mass shooting that happened in Las Vegas the day before. It’s one of countless remembrances happening across the country in this, the latest episode of Gun-Crazed: America’s Next Mass Shooting™. The gesture is nice but that’s all it is. We talk about remembering victims as if doing so will ever lead to meaningful action, which has been far too much of an ask of our elected officials. We know how this show ends: the Republican Party thwarts any and all efforts to pass meaningful or even just symbolic gun reform, and the Democrats take their balls and go home.
In other words, what happened in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas.
Friday, December 14, 2012 was supposed to be The Day Things Changed in the gun debate. Twenty murdered six-year-old and seven-year-old children plus six murdered teachers equaled the enactment of sensible gun regulations. The equation was so easy it could be solved by those elementary schoolers had they survived. But for NRA flunky Wayne LaPierre, the problem was something out of Good Will Hunting. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun,” he declared, “Is a good guy with a gun.”
It’s not that LaPierre doesn’t know that the federal and state legislators they lobby can pass preventative measures laws that would reduce the likelihood of gun violence. He does. He just doesn't care to because he serves, first and foremost gun manufacturers. Gun owners are a distant second.
How else can we explain his support for a law signed earlier this year by Trump that rescinded an Obama-era regulation making it harder for mentally disturbed people to legally buy guns? Or his opposition to a 1994 assault weapons ban that Congress allowed to expire in 2004? Or his opposition to universal background checks on people wanting to buy guys, despite the fact that 92% of gun-owners -- gun owners -- support them?
These actions would be helpful.
What's not helpful is the idea that virtually everyone should have a gun. Think about what happened in Las Vegas on Sunday night. Imagine for a moment the attendees of the bullet-riddled country music show were all carrying guns, just like LaPierre and the NRA would want: good guys with guns trying to stop bad guys with guns. What would that reaction look like?
Well, it’d look like whatever scores of people firing at a sniper 400 yards away on the 32nd floor of a packed Las Vegas hotel would look like. Bullets flying all over the place, into rooms not occupied by the shooter and possibly hitting innocent tourists. If the tourists were similarly armed, they might very well think they were being targeted and feel compelled to defend themselves by returning fire. The whole thing would be a tragic farce. And if you think armed citizens in the hotel would’ve been able to stop Paddock -- assuming they had the will to do so -- bear in mind he had barricaded himself in his room and police needed 72 minutes to locate the gunman’s room and some explosives to force their way in.
An incident at the aforementioned Empire State Building provides a perfect illustration of this problem. In 2012 a gunman opened fire outside the building in an extremely crowded Midtown Manhattan. Within minutes, police responded and returned fire, killing the gunman. Nine bystanders were injured during the melee.
Here’s the thing about those nine bystanders. None of them were hit by the gunman, whose only target was a former coworker. Instead, they were hit with police bullets and debris from police bullets. In other words, well-trained good guys with guns who regularly practice firing their weapons did indeed stop a bad guy with a gun, but they also managed to shoot nine innocent people. Now picture dozens of not-so-well-trained pistol packers trying to pick off a gunman during rush hour in Midtown. The image is ugly.
Flacks like LaPierre want us to believe that taking down a gun-wielding madman is as easy as it looks in the movies. It isn’t.
Ours is a sick culture. I know not what ails it. But I see the symptoms are manifest most noticeably in our craven and corrupt politicians, elected to serve the people who put them there, but instead serve the NRA and the gun companies. Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Orlando, and on and on and on. We got nothing then, and we'll get nothing now. So light a candle for the victims in Las Vegas.
Just keep those matches handy.