This is not normal.
No one should ever have to think that living in America comes with the inevitability of mass murder. We should not become immune to the horror of violence. America is better than that, despite what Stephen Paddock may have thought.
The gambler and retired accountant rained down death upon 20,000 people attending a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip. In a torrent of rapid fire from high-powered rifles, he killed at least 59 people and wounded more than 500 others from his perch on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
The toll made it the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Tragically, the previous “record,” if you want to call it that, was set only little more than a year ago at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
How Paddock obtained his incredible arsenal is still being determined. Police said they recovered 23 weapons from his hotel rooms, including .308- and .223-caliber rifles. Some of the rifles had telescopic sights and at least two appeared to have been modified to allow them to be fired on full automatic.
Federal law has long banned nearly all civilian ownership of weapons capable of such “burst” fire. Laws governing assault-type rifles that fire semiautomatically vary by state, with New York’s SAFE Act among the strictest.
Nevada’s gun laws are some of the most relaxed in the country. Open carry is allowed and gun ranges allow visitors to fire fully automatic machine guns.
Fifty-nine people slaughtered at a concert. The images should spark a forceful response in an effort to reduce the chances of the next mass shooting. But if the past is any lesson, nothing will happen. In most of the country, people will still be able to buy a military-style rifle, in some cases without a background check.
Nothing changes because we have a political system that is held hostage to special interests – in this case the NRA and gun lobby. Nothing will change until people decide that the desire of a few people to possess virtually unlimited firepower should not overrule the right of the many to live free of the threat of mass murder.
Every mass shooting is followed by a cry for more stringent gun regulations, but the effort always fails thanks to the hard work of the gun lobby and the NRA. Even Sandy Hook, where 20 schoolchildren were murdered by a gunman armed with an assault-style rifle, failed to stir the national conscience into action.
Congress once was able to act. Following some mass shootings in the early 1990s, Congress in 1994 enacted a ban on assault-style rifles. Unfortunately, it expired 10 years later and hundreds of thousands of those weapons have hit the market since.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that reasonable restrictions on guns are constitutional. It upheld most of New York’s tough SAFE Act.
Many Americans object to what they see as government intrusion on their lives. It happened in the 1970s and 1980s when the government forced automakers to build safer cars. Just as drivers had to get used to paying for seat belts and air bags, changes that have saved tens of thousands of lives, gun owners will adjust to incremental regulations that reduce the chance of mass shootings.
With so many guns available in the United States, the effects of any legislation will not be immediately noticeable, but over a generation it could make a monumental difference.
Opinion polls will come out soon, as they always do after a mass shooting, showing Americans overwhelmingly in favor of some new restrictions. They know that mass shootings are not normal and doing nothing to prevent them is not the American way.
Sooner or later, Congress must act. The longer it takes, the more Americans will lose their lives.