Fear and Loathing (and Shooting) in Las Vegas

Today’s news is dominated by last night’s mass shooting on the Las Vegas strip, leaving at least 58 people dead and over 500 injured. At the time I’m writing this, it is believed there was a lone gunman, a 64-year-old retired accountant named Stephen Paddock, who lived about 80 miles away and was shooting from a 32nd floor hotel room at Mandalay Bay, targeting a nearby outdoor country music concert.

I’m struggling to come up with the words to describe what I’m feeling, yet feel the need to say something. For starters, heartfelt condolences to the family and loved ones of the victims, and prayers for healing to the injured. The words are inadequate; the emotions run much deeper.

More feelings about the shooter, his motivation, the ongoing political posturing about gun rights and restrictions, the pendulum that swings between individual rights and societal good, mental health, what it is that makes someone snap, cognitive and moral biases. Fear and loathing.  Can we ever feel safe again?

In the Declaration of Independence, our nation’s founding fathers declared, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” What happens with one person’s Life collides with others’ Liberty or pursuit of Happiness? What other unalienable Rights did that Congress have in mind but decide not to enumerate?  How can we possibly reconcile the victims’ unalienable Rights?

Las Vegas is especially vulnerable to events like this. It hosts many events that concentrate thousands of people together – concerts, conventions, sporting events (which will grow with the addition of an NHL team this fall and NFL team next year), and more.

I’ve been to Vegas many times, starting in 1998 and including six visits over the last three years.  I traveled there with many different friends – Greg, Jack, Jay, Jeff, Jonathan, Mike, Tom, Tony, and Zach and others.

Several times for business conferences, and other times just to play poker. I’ve stayed at the Aria, Bellagio, Bill’s Gambling Hall and Saloon (now the Cromwell), Flamingo, Harrah’s, Linq, Mirage, Palms, Rio, Wild Wild West, and the Wynn.

I’ve also played poker at Binion’s, Caesar’s Palace, Circus Circus, Golden Nugget, Mandalay Bay (just once!), MGM Grand, Monte Carlo, Planet Hollywood and Riviera.

I’ve attended a very large conference at the Las Vegas convention center (18,000 people) and a basketball game at T-Mobile Arena (19,000), and three World Series of Poker.

There is more to say but the words won’t flow.  Now what?  I just don’t know…

UPDATE:  Next day.  The death toll is higher.

The debate about gun rights and gun control has fascinated me for over 40 years.  After the massacre, Caleb Keeter, a guitarist for the Josh Abbott Band that was onstage when the shooting began, tweeted that the event changed his mind about gun control.  This is rare.  Below are a few links to stories that speak to my feelings on this issue.  I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind, nor do I mean to disparage those who attach high value to gun ownership or their interpretation of their constitutional rights to “bear arms.”

(I’ve read the constitution, and studied some of its history.  The Second Amendment had a dual purpose for the authors of the Bill of Rights.  First, there was no permanent military or standing army at the time.  During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army didn’t have any weapons to issue to citizens who joined the fight but had no firearms of their own to bring with them into service.  Secondly, the language was an appeasement to slaveholders in the south to secure their votes for the entire Bill of Rights.  The southerners wanted to ensure they would not lose the ability – through future acts of Congress – to employ slave patrols (A/K/A “militias”) to intimidate slaves and prevent rebellions.  Neither the absence of a permanent military nor the presence of slavery remains as a justification for the Second Amendment.)

From a satire perspective, the Onion wrote this headline:  No Way to Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.

In The Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky pointed out the ironic juxtaposition of politics under this headline:  The GOP’s Twisted Reality, Where Guns Are a Right But Health Care is a Privilege.

The approaches to public safety in Australia (no mass shootings since 1998 law dramatically restricting gun ownership following the Port Arthur massacre) and Japan (six gun deaths in 2014, with a population more than 1/3 that of the U.S.) are held up as examples of extreme successes in reducing deaths from gun violence.  Under-appreciated is the corresponding reduction in suicide rates.

And from Vox, Gun violence in America, explained in 17 maps and charts.  In a nutshell, the presence of more guns leads to more gun deaths.  The prepping up of America is moving us in the wrong direction.

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1 Comment

  1. Although certainly you make some points which should be considered, the statistical evidence about the connection between number of guns and gun deaths does not hold water. For example, Plano TX, which probably has more guns per capita then anywhere else in the country, has the lowest per capita rate of death by guns in the country. Also, in every case where concealed carry has been made more widely available, violent crime and homicides have gone down. These facts should be taken into consideration as well

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