Fifty-nine dead and some five hundred injured as of this moment. The worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Well, that's what most are saying. I think the Newtown (Sandy Hook) massacre was the worst. More have died in Vegas but the Newtown victims were children.
At any rate: dozens dead, hundreds injured. But is enough, enough?
No. It should be but ... no, it isn't. It won't be.
To my mild surprise it was Bill O'Reilly who put his finger on the problem, though it's not so much a problem for him as the whole point. He wrote:
This is the price of freedom. Violent nuts are allowed to roam free until they do damage, no matter how threatening they are.That precisely sums up the effect of the laissez-faire attitude toward gun ownership espoused by the most zealous gun-rights advocates, including but not limited to the National Rifle Association and its supporters. They will never come right out and say that mass murder is "the price of freedom" (specifically, the freedom to own guns), but it's the logical conclusion of their unrelenting drive to make even the merest discussion of gun control politically impossible.
(Why did BillO blow the secret? Because he has adopted the NRA's fatalistic stance that gun control is futile: "[H]aving covered scores of gun-related crimes over the years, I can tell you that government restrictions will not stop psychopaths from harming people." What he does not say is that those psychopaths would have to work a hell of a lot harder to harm the same number of people if they didn't have access to firearms that can be modified to shoot a lot of bullets in a very short time.)
But back to the salient point: this nation will never say "enough is enough" as long as enough gun owners and gun rights advocates hold fast to the principle that mass killings are an acceptable price for unfettered access to guns.
Gun rights advocates demand that every possible contributing factor to mass shootings be investigated and addressed by legislation — except for gun ownership itself. Gun ownership is not only axiomatically sacrosanct (i.e., you can't ask why gun ownership is an untouchable right), but isn't the root cause of the shootings, gun-rights advocates claim.
That position is no longer credible.
Whenever a mass shooting occurs, the NRA and its allies unfailingly denounce criminals and/or the mentally ill and/or unjust local laws that prevented "good guys" from carrying weapons that could have redressed the balance with the shooter.
Let's see how feasible addressing each of these (putative) alternative factors is.
- Criminals should not have guns, we're told by the NRA. Well of course not. The trouble is that many of the mass shooters of the 21st century weren't criminals until they committed their mass shooting. The Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, for instance, had no criminal history.
- Mental illness of a sufficient degree should disqualify one from possessing a firearm. However, we are nowhere near understanding the mind well enough to make such judgments infallibly. If you argue that the answer to mass shootings is a test that can tell whether a person will ever commit mass murder with a gun, you aren't being serious. You're trying to postpone the discussion indefinitely.
- Now, about those good guys with guns whom some claim are the solution to mass shootings: how exactly would these good guys, with their presumably street-legal weapons, have stopped Paddock? He was around a thousand feet from his victims, thirty-two stories above them. He had the element of surprise and his victims (and would-be counteraggressors in the crowd) had no shelter. To analyze the situation well enough to figure out the shooter's location would require a person with rare presence of mind and coolness under fire.
Yet assume that in a crowd as large as the one in Las Vegas, a few such people would have been present. They would have to have brought their weapons with them, the concert's organizers would have to have assented and it would have to be publicly known that audience members could be carrying.
- Would you feel comfortable attending an event where an unknown number of your fellow eventgoers were armed?
- What if they were drinking or imbibing other controlled substances? Could the organizers require total sobriety as a condition of carrying within paid areas?
- Would you be comfortable assuming, as you would have to, that all those armed attendees were genuine good guys, rather than bad guys taking advantage of the permission to carry?
- If shooting broke out, could law enforcement figure out who were the good guys and who the bad guys?
If we want to address the plague of mass shootings, we have got to stop treating gun control as taboo. Greater restrictions on firearms and ammunition are presently our only practical options.
Until gun-rights advocates acknowledge that reality, enough will never be enough.