On Sunday October 1, 2017, 64-year-old terrorist Stephen Paddock unleashed a hail of gunfire on a crowd during country singer Jason Aldean’s set at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. Paddock, stationed from his hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, killed at least 59, wounded over 527 concertgoers and killed himself prior to police arriving at his room.
This shooting now holds the title of deadliest mass shooting in modern United States history. Donald Trump responded to the massacre on Twitter, “My warmest condolences and sympathies to the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting. God bless you!”
In times where mass shootings seem ubiquitous and commonplace, it is clear that “thoughts and prayers,” are inadequate means of addressing the situation, and that our protocol following gun-related tragedies is inherently flawed. We do not need well wishes; what we need is gun control.
Gun control is perceived to be incredibly controversial in the United States- often times people who oppose gun control conflate it with an all-out ban, or a perception that their guns will be taken away from them.
However, in a poll conducted by CNN/ORC following the Pulse Nightclub shooting in June 2016, 92% of the bipartisan respondents supported the expansion of background checks, 87% supported banning felons and people with history of mental health issues from purchasing a gun. Even the most unpopular ideas- banning the sale of semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines won the support of over 50% of respondents.
It is abundantly clear that stricter gun laws are something that all Americans, regardless of party affiliation, can get behind. The real problem with making change is the government. Even former Democratic President Barack Obama was unable to pass laws cracking down on gun ownership, though he did try.
His executive orders requiring expansion of background checks, and ban of automatic assault rifles and high-capacity magazines following the Sandy Hook massacre were unpopular in Congress, and his administration’s only gun laws actually expanded gun rights in America.
Obama frequently spoke out in favor of gun control, even as a freshman Senator in 2008, “We essentially have two realities, when it comes to guns, in this country. You’ve got the tradition of lawful gun ownership. It is very important for many Americans to be able to hunt, fish, take their kids out, teach them how to shoot. Then you’ve got the reality of 34 Chicago public school students who get shot down on the streets of Chicago.
We can reconcile those two realities by making sure the Second Amendment is respected and that people are able to lawfully own guns, but that we also start cracking down on the kinds of abuses of firearms that we see on the streets.”
We are the only developed nation in the world with this unprecedented level of gun-related homicides.
An issue arising with the new presidency is Donald Trump’s stance on gun control. As a notorious flip-flopper on political issues, it is often difficult to predict where Trump’s ideologies lie, but since the 2016 campaign he has been leaning further right.
As per his campaign website, Trump promised to enforce current gun laws, to appoint a supporter of the Second Amendment to the Supreme Court, campaigned to expand concealed carry permits to work across state lines in all 50 states, and to end gun-free zones such as schools.
Still, in the wake of this heinous national tragedy, Congress will still hold a vote to make gun access easier- allowing for the transfer of firearms across state lines, the elimination of the $200 transfer tax on silencers and the ability carry in national parks.
The cold, hard fact of the matter is that many members of the government are in the pocket of the National Rifle Association. The NRA endorsed Trump during his presidential campaign, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell received a donation of $922,000 for his reelection campaign, not to mention the countless other politicians, candidates and organizations bankrolled by the gun lobby.
Representatives and Senators who are struggling in election seasons often lean on the NRA for support and it is one of the largest lobbyist organizations in the United States. The NRA is so overwhelmingly powerful in this country due to its close ties to bureaucracy, its immense wealth and far reach, that the idea of gun control in any form has become so vehemently opposed by a small but mighty minority.
We are the only developed nation in the world with this unprecedented level of gun-related homicides. In the United States, a person has about the same likelihood of dying by gun violence as dying in a car accident, yet a person living in Japan could compare this likelihood to being struck by lightning- the odds of one in ten million.
We cannot in good conscience lean on “thoughts and prayers,” no matter their intentions.
Another pressing and problematic issue with how Americans deal with gun violence is entirely related to race and privilege. We do not treat white gunmen the same as we do shooters of minority status.
Immediately after it was revealed that Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock was a white man, headlines began portraying him as a lone wolf; even a New York Times headline read, “Stephen Paddock, Las Vegas Suspect, Was a Gambler Who Drew Little Attention.”
This narrative has become familiar and we have seen it before with Charleston shooter Dylann Roof, James Holmes in Aurora, Tucson shooter Jared Loughner, Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza, and Elliot Rodger, who committed the horrific massacre here in Isla Vista in May 2014.
These people are afforded a break due to the color of their skin, and are often written off as mentally ill or distraught. White people do not see a rise in hate crimes following acts of terror committed by other white people, as opposed to spikes in prejudice and crime against Muslim communities following attacks carried out by other Muslims.
We must call it as we see it. We cannot in good conscience lean on “thoughts and prayers,” no matter their intentions. We must demand action against lax gun ownership laws in this country, and we absolutely must stop excusing white shooters from being labeled terrorists.
What happened in Las Vegas was an enormous tragedy, and it would be an egregious error to not call it by its name: terrorism.
Hannah Jackson wants America to wake up and take the necessary actions to halt our gun violence epidemic.