Last Sunday night in Las Vegas, Nevada, 64-year old Stephen Paddock opened fire on a group of concert goers near the Mandalay Bay Resort, killing over 50 people and injuring more than 500 others. When he was found in a hotel room later that night, he had already taken his own life, surrounded by at least 17 firearms.
As of today, his motivation remains unclear. By all accounts, this retiree was a quiet, mild-mannered man with no history of mental illness or extremist ideology. The next few weeks will no doubt be filled with pundits saying that there was no way to see this attack coming and there was nothing that could be done to stop it.
Of course, neither of those things are true. Any number of people could have seen this type of attack coming – by one account, there have been 273 mass shootings over the last 275 days of this year, nearly one per day. The United States suffers from gun violence at a rate unheard of in the rest of the developed world, yet not one of these tragedies has brought legislators any closer to having serious conversations, let alone proposing policy changes that would deter the violent massacre of innocent people. Unfettered access to guns is not part of the solution – it is part of the problem.
Reducing access to guns, particularly the military-grade weaponry that average citizens have access to, is only a piece of the solution. Gun culture in this country needs to change as well. The “good guy with a gun” rhetoric should be eliminated from our collective wisdom entirely – without mandatory training or detailed background checks, that good guy with a gun is just as likely to do more harm than good. More guns cannot solve mass murder any more than thoughts or prayers can.
There is no reason that this country should have more guns than people. In fact, the United States is the only country on the face of this planet with more guns than people, with nearly double the number of guns per capita as the next country on the list, Serbia. Gun buy-back programs have been effective in several other countries – why not try this solution here as well.
While mental illness is not currently thought to be a factor in the case of Paddock, it has been in a number of other mass shootings. While insurance coverage has improved over the last several years, there still remain significant challenges when it comes to the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses. Currently there are large gaps in insurance plans leaving millions of Americans very few options when dealing with bona fide mental health issues. We are facing a mental health care crisis in this country, one that cannot be improved with political posturing or legislation designed to attract votes, regardless of the human cost.
While it is important to send our thoughts and prayers to the victims and the families of those who lost loved ones in this massacre, these sentiments do nothing to protect people from being future victims of similar circumstances. For elected officials, if this, the worst mass shooting in modern history does not compel them to advocate for change and shed the cloak of inaction then I don’t know what will. As citizens, as brothers and sisters of this country, we must all stand up and demand action.