And so we have news of another mass act of violence. In Las Vegas, we hear, a man has opened fire from a hotel window into a vast crowd of concert-goers, killing over 50 and injuring more than 400. “We heard what sounded like firecrackers going off,” one woman told MSNBC, adding that as she ran off, there were “probably a couple hundred [people] on the ground.”
The police have named their suspect as Stephen Paddock, a “local man” aged 64. He is believed to have checked into the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in late September. We don’t yet know what might have gone through the head of our suspect, but we do know what was in his hands: Paddock, the police say, had an “excess of ten rifles” in his hotel room.
In the state of Nevada, background checks are now carried out when people buy guns. That this was a big win for the anti-gun lobby is shocking in and of itself; that new, universal background check measures, approved by voters in January, have been put on hold “indefinitely” after they were designated unenforceable is the sort of fact that ought to make right-thinking people wince.
No permit is required to purchase a firearm in the state, and firearms do not need to be registered there. “It is legal to carry openly or concealed inside a casino,” says one, bleakly hilarious sentence on the website nevadacarry.org. “Most casinos will ask you to leave . . . but it is not a crime unless you refuse to leave or comply (only trespassing).”
We might wonder whether a culture in which it is possible for a man to hole up in a hotel room with ten rifles and not be previously known to police—to not have traceable criminal ties, or a system somewhere with a pop-up saying hey, just thought I’d let you know, Sarge, there is a man who owns ten guns in big, red, flashing letters—is, in fact, a deeply broken culture.
In fact, I’d argue that a culture which believes a private citizen ought to be allowed to own one assault weapon is a broken culture. In the chilling words of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence: “Assault weapons are designed to maximize lethality; they are intended to kill as many humans as possible as quickly as possible.”
There is an Onion article that does the rounds each time someone tries to “kill as many humans as possible as quickly as possible”—its grim circuity becoming more and more enraging as its byline date moves further and further away from the date on the calendar.
“[C]itizens living in the only country where this kind of mass killing routinely occurs reportedly concluded Tuesday that there was no way to prevent the massacre from taking place,” it says, and then, just in case you hadn't got it: “At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past five years were referring to themselves and their situation as ‘helpless.’”
It is this sort of hopeless, throw-up-your-hands, what-can-you-do thinking that confronts America’s progressives every time a fresh horror appears on the news ticker. It does not matter whether the victims are concert-goers, or young people enjoying the liberating joy of an LGBT night, or, indeed, schoolchildren.
You only need to contrast today’s headlines with those of April 28, 2017, when Donald Trump told the National Rifle Association—what an ordinary, bureaucratic-sounding name; what a grotesque lobbying organisation—that “I’m going to come through for you.” This chumminess, with its note of fraternal loyalty, tells you everything about where the obstruction sits.
Today marks the 275th day of 2017. There has been a mass shooting on almost every one of those days.
Many otherwise sane, reasonable Americans hold that it is the right of any law-abiding adult to own a firearm. Puffed up on “freedom” and “rights,” they argue that the actions of a few should not restrict the desires of the many, even if the desire in question involves buying a semi-automatic rifle or carrying a concealed handgun into Target.
The government, they protest, should not baby them; for they are sensible grown-ups, who would only ever shoot someone in the case of a home invasion or the bank hold-up that, I presume, a fair number of them must fantasize about stumbling into and emerging a hero from.
That they are naive is a given; that they live in a society unnecessarily steeped in fear, beyond doubt. It should go without saying: the idea that their right to own a gun outweighs 273 shootings in 275 days is the saddest, most childish belief of them all.