Las Vegas massacre reignites debate over gun control

Killer carried 23 weapons to hotel room before opening fire and killing 59 concertgoers

Audio from police scanners highlights the pandemonium during the Las vegas shootings in which at least 59 people were killed and 527 injured. An eyewitness describes his experience from the crowd. Video: Suzanne Lynch/Irish Times video

 

The bitter US debate on gun control erupted again on Tuesday as investigators struggled to comprehend why Stephen Paddock amassed an arsenal of more than 40 weapons and opened fire on thousands of country music fans in Las Vegas, killing at least 59 people.

On Sunday night, 64-year-old Paddock opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino into a crowd of 22,000 attending the Route 91 Harvest country music festival, injuring more than 500 before killing himself.

Investigators found 23 weapons, including rifles and pistols, in his hotel room and a further 19 at his home, Las Vegas police said. Officers also retrieved explosives and several thousand rounds of ammunition at Paddock’s house in Mesquite, a Nevada town about an hour away from the Las Vegas Strip where the shooting occurred.

“Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is working on two fronts to process the crime scene and also investigate the motive of the shooter,” Todd Fasulo, an assistant sheriff, said. No evidence had been found to support a claim of responsibility by Isis, the militant Islamist group, police said.

Authorities believe the 23 guns had been taken to Paddock’s two-room suite in suitcases in at least 10 trips from his car. Asked how this went unnoticed, Mr Fasulo said: “That’s part of our investigation, determining just that.”

President Donald Trump praised the quick response of police and first responders as “a miracle”, but deflected questions about gun control. “We will be talking about gun laws as time goes by,” he said.

Tougher gun control laws

Nonetheless, the massacre has reignited the debate about guns that resurfaces every time the United States witnesses another mass shooting.

While the political landscape in Washington was not conducive to tougher gun control laws during the Obama administration because of the power of the gun lobby, it is even less so now, as Republicans control the White House and both branches of Congress.

“We have become normalised and regularised to 50 people losing their lives. This is a uniquely American problem,” said Chris Murphy, the Connecticut senator who has been a vocal proponent of tougher gun laws since the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school massacre. “There’s an unintentional endorsement that gets sent to these mass murderers when after slaughter after slaughter, Congress does nothing.”

Following the Las Vegas massacre, the National Rifle Association postponed a series of television advertisements due to run in Virginia where it supports the Republican candidate in the race for governor.

Gun control advocates won a minor victory on Tuesday when Republicans shelved plans to vote on a Bill that would have made it easier for Americans to buy gun silencers. It was pitched as necessary to reduce the health impact on hunters from loud gunfire, but critics said it would make it harder for citizens and police to detect the location of a gunman during a mass shooting.

The power and number of weapons used in Las Vegas has prompted even some one-time supporters of the current gun laws to think again.

Condemn lawmakers

“I’ve been a proponent of the second amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was,” said Caleb Keeter, guitarist with the Josh Abbott Band, who performed at the Route 91 festival on Sunday before the shooting occurred.

Jimmy Kimmel, the US TV talk show host who is from Las Vegas, used his ABC broadcast on Monday night to condemn lawmakers who “continue to allow this to happen” and rebutted Republicans’ attempts to defer a discussion about gun laws.

“Common sense says no good will ever come from allowing a person to have weapons that can take down 527 Americans at a concert,” he said. “Common sense says you don’t let those who suffer from mental illness buy guns.”

The gun debate was “hard to understand because you have people thinking both ways”, said Rami Hernandez, Las Vegas resident who attended a multifaith vigil on Monday night at the Guardian Angel Cathedral on the Strip.

“We have to have the right to defend ourselves. It’s part of a democracy,” he said. “But there definitely has to be more control in how it’s done. There are different opinions on how much is enough.”

Ahmad Ade, another Las Vegas resident at Monday’s vigil, was pessimistic that the carnage in his city would have any more impact on the debate than the Sandy Hook massacre.

“The gun question gets no one anywhere,” he said. “It is what it is. It’s America.”

– (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017)