This is who we are. This is who we have decided to be. It is painful to consider, which must be why so many people are ready to ignore the fact. We are a nation where mass murder happens and happens and happens and happens and happens again — this time as 22,000 people come to watch a country-music concert.
This time, a 64-year-old man rains down death from the 32nd floor of a Vegas hotel. This time, police say the shooter, a man named Stephen Paddock, brought 18 rifles with him, two of them found on tripods facing the window through which he killed at least 58 and wounded more than 500. This time, the shooter killed himself before the police got to the room.
The pictures of chaos and death challenge our imagination, just as James Holmes’ rampage in the Aurora movie theatre challenged our imagination or Omar Marteen’s killing spree at the Orlando nightclub challenged our imagination. But the challenges come and the challenges go and nothing changes and then the next one happens. We grieve again. And if we don’t quite forget, we don’t quite remember either.
From the White House, we get the expected this-is-not-the-time-to-discuss-guns argument. Of course, no one says exactly when the right time is to discuss gun violence. We must note, however, that history tells us the right time never seems to come around.
The Senate, meanwhile, observes a moment of silence for the victims. But silence is what we expect from Congress on mass murders and on the everyday tragedy of ordinary — far too ordinary — killings by guns.
As CNN showed the Vegas video of war-zone-like chaos, the editors had bleeped a curse word from someone in the crowd, presumably so as not to offend the sensibilities of the viewers. They didn’t bleep the sound of the rifle fire. Where do you think the real obscenity is?
This is where we are in America: There are web sites tracking mass shootings. There are web sites tracking all murders. They stay busy. According to the Brady Campaign, 11,564 Americans were murdered by guns last year. If that’s not shocking enough, there’s this: four children and teens are murdered each day by gun violence. Meanwhile, Gun Violence Archive lists 273 mass shootings (four or more people shot) so far in 2017.
These are not just numbers. As we listen to the stories of the survivors from Las Vegas, and as we wait for the stories of those killed and injured, and, later still, of all those affected by those deaths and injuries, we connect the human beings to the numbers.
For a while, anyway. And then we wait for the next time to reconnect.
Some of us naively thought at the time of Columbine, all those years ago, that maybe we had reached a point where we would be shocked to our senses, knowing something had to be done. Nothing was done. Instead we engaged in pointless battles about the 2nd Amendment and ignored the fact that the poisonous NRA is at least half right — it’s not about the guns. But what it is about is gun violence.
We knew the game was up after Newtown. There will be nothing worse than Newtown. There will be nothing worse than shooting 6-year-olds (and having to listen to Sandy Hook truthers like Alex Jones). There would be plenty of horror to follow. Charlotte. Orlando. Santa Barbara. But nothing worse.
We don’t know quite what to do with the kind of slaughter that took place in Vegas. I’m not the first to note that if it had been an Islamist terror attack — as ISIS has claimed — we would understand the drill. There’d be more calls to limit immigration, whether or not the shooter was an immigrant. We’d want to limit heavily-vetted refugees because they might bring jihad with them. There would be more senseless talk from a would-be Alabama senator about sharia law. There would be Tom Tancredo suggesting we bomb Mecca.
But this shooter was apparently a high-stakes gambler who lived, among other places, in a retirement village in Mesquite, Nev. His family says he had no connection to any political or religious beliefs. And, even if it turns out he did, no one would presumably advocate bombing Mesquite.
But when it comes to guns, as Adam Gopnik notes in The New Yorker, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a terrorist or a guy from Mesquite. The reaction, or lack of reaction, is exactly the same. There is nothing to be done. And the despair grows deeper still.
Donald Trump, who has told the NRA that the “eight-year assault” on the 2nd Amendment ended with his election, didn’t mention guns in his brief remarks to the nation Monday. He did offer his “warmest condolences and sympathies” to those affected by the violence. He said he’ll go to Las Vegas on Wednesday.
It would take someone like Trump, whose most rabid followers seem ready to follow him anywhere, to state the obvious — that we can’t in good conscience continue this way — to effect any kind of change. It would be a Nixon-to-China moment. It won’t happen, of course. Nothing will happen. You already know what we will inevitably decide to do about the fact of Paddock and his 18 rifles. Not a goddamn thing.
Mike Littwin writes for ColoradoIndependent.com