Words cannot begin to capture the depth nor the range of the feelings triggered by the horrific shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 1. There is grief, of course, and condolences, but those words are pale, pale shades of the emotions that have descended on the families and friends of the 59 people who lost their lives in the shooting.
There is shock and horror among survivors, who are conscious of how close they came to death for reasons that are still inexplicable — and how random and slim the difference between themselves and those who died. Thousands of bullets rained down on them from a modified semi-automatic weapon, fired 500 meters away from a perch 32 floors high. There is astonishment and a tinge of fear among all those who read or hear of this tragedy, and many people must wonder if the concept of safety in a public space is a quaint and outdated notion in America.
There is gratitude and praise for first responders and other individuals who exposed themselves to great danger as they tried to help the victims. Those heroes range from police and rescue workers who cleared the area of the wounded; doctors, nurses and emergency workers who tended to those individuals at the scene and in hospitals and emergency rooms across the city; and ordinary citizens who recognized the need to do something to help, even if it meant that they could not find safety for themselves.
There is confusion among all those who try to understand why this happened and what motivated the shooter, Stephen Paddock, to commit this appalling act. Investigators are scouring his life, and the pieces that they have uncovered offer little if any insight into his thinking. He was a gambler and something of a loner, but he had no criminal record, and his family and friends say there was never an indication of a predilection — a love of guns or an unexplained anger or grudge — that could have driven him to commit this crime.
There is vexation among the majority of Americans who cannot understand their country’s fixation with guns and the need for ordinary citizens to possess such immense firepower. When the police broke into Paddock’s hotel room, they found 23 firearms, including a Kalashnikov, an AR-15, an AR-10, several other rifles, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Several of the semi-automatic rifles had been modified to increase their rate of fire, making them capable of showering the crowd with bullets. All of them had apparently been acquired legally and there is no indication that the modifications were illegal either.
There is incredulity at reports that in the aftermath of the shooting — as in previous incidents — shares of gun manufacturers have gone up and sales of weapons rise as well. For a country that already accounts for 48 percent of the 650 million guns held by civilians around the world — despite accounting for just 4.4 percent of the world’s population — the prospect of yet more weapons circulating is stunning. Americans already have more guns per capita than any other country in the world. They have 1.5 times as many as No. 2 — Yemen — a country that has been engulfed in civil war for years.
Finally, there is anger and disgust that these criminal attacks have become commonplace. In December 2012, a lone gunman killed 20 children, six adults and himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Since then, there have been at least 1,518 mass shooting, killing at least 1,715 people and wounding 6,089 others. There has been a mass shooting almost every day. And this is just a fraction of the 33,000 firearms deaths that occur every year in the United States.
Yet, inexplicably, politicians refuse to act. White House officials demurred when asked about possible gun control legislation, saying it is “too early” to talk about policy, and the administration of President Donald Trump has circulated talking points downplaying the impact of any such legislation. Among Republicans, and some Democrats, there is no tolerance for qualifying the protections afforded by the Second Amendment.
There is talk now, however, of addressing accessories, such as “bump stocks,” devices that can be purchased online for as little as $100 and which make semiautomatic rifles fire nearly as rapidly as machine guns. Whether that support grows to command a majority in Congress is another matter. Typically, there is talk of remedies after a tragedy, but the will to act dissipates as the incident recedes in memory.
Perhaps that is what the opponents of gun control anticipate and count on. In which case, there is another word that again almost — but not quite — captures the moment: cynicism.