How do we avoid thinking of this as a normal state of affairs? How can we walk into a concert setting – an arena, a nightclub, and now with this latest hate-fueled massacre, even an open-air festival setting – without admitting that we fear for our own safety?
What happened during the Route 91 Music Festival in Las Vegas on Sunday evening has been labeled the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. What appears to have been a lone gunman, with nearly a dozen rifles at his disposal, opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, adjacent to the concert grounds, during a set from Jason Aldean and his band. More than 50 people are dead, in excess of 500 injured.
Sadly, I've written this column before, following massacres in Paris, Orlando, Manchester, all involving armed gunmen attacking music fans inside what we've long considered a sacred space – the concert venue, within which we have always been able to shed the confines of daily reality in order to find exaltation and release through the communal act of music-making and listening.
A state of relative safety was assumed. Your personal politics, religious views, were rarely challenged, even if the concertgoer standing next to you held a set of beliefs in contradiction to your own. For a few hours, none of this stuff – the toxic cloud-mass of anger, confusion and misinformation that has poisoned our national discourse – mattered. This was part of what made us all willing to lay down the money for tickets, clear the schedule, hire the babysitter and rationalize staying out late on a work night.
In the past, however, I've argued strongly that we should continue in our well-established practice undeterred, refusing to yield our sacred space to the violence and hatred from which, sadly, we are often trying to escape through the vehicle of live music.
Today, that belief is challenged. I'm no longer convinced it's worth it.
Concert security has improved in the time since the November 2015 attack on attendees of the Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan Theatre in Paris, when some 90 people lost their lives. These improvements have made it more difficult for anyone inclined to do so to smuggle the instruments of massacre into a closed venue. Brute force and firepower allowed the gunmen responsible for the Paris attacks to break through security checkpoints, of course. But generally speaking, security at concerts appeared to be sturdy and thorough. We saw this international trend underlined in area venues, from Key Bank Center to Canalside, Artpark to Darien Lake, the Town Ballroom to the Iron Works.
However, with the May 22 attack during the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, and this latest horror, conventional security has been subverted. The Manchester attackers committed their atrocities outside the concert venue, attacking fans as they left. The Las Vegas sniper was safely ensconced on the opposite side of Las Vegas Boulevard from the concert grounds. In both cases, security measures failed, precisely because they were not applicable. How could either of these attacks have been prevented? Tragically, the sort of dystopian rot that has produced these massacres seems to be rooted in the culture, the country, the world itself. Tightening security at entry and exit points most likely would have had no effect in prevention.
A first-person account from a Rolling Stone writer in attendance during Sunday's show reads like a surrealist account from a war-zone, with concertgoers unsure of where the shots are coming from attempting to take whatever shelter was available, and "Get down, stay down" became the oft-repeated mantra.
Is this what we're left with as our best option, at this point? To get down and stay down? Or must we stand and fight in defense of our sacred space?
In May, I firmly believed I had the answer to that question. Today, I'm no longer sure.