The most lethal mass shooting in modern American history has left at least 59 dead in Las Vegas. Alongside the mourning, many are struggling to make sense of the tragic event. The perpetrator, Stephen Paddock, was identified as a 64-year-old millionaire retiree who was white. Police have conclusively ruled out any links to terror outfits such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. While his father was a fugitive bank robber, the son had no known connections to any violent creed or crime. But Paddock owned no fewer than 47 weapons and had bought 33 guns just this past year alone. Twelve of these were geared to fire like a machine gun, hence the carnage he perpetrated in less than 11 minutes of shooting.
This might prompt one to probe the link between rage involving guns in the United States and Americans' rage for guns. In the year to date, more than 11,700 deaths have been attributed to gun use. Gun Violence Archive, a website that tracks incidents involving guns across the US, said Sunday night's attack was the 273rd mass shooting this year. It defines a mass shooting as four or more people being shot at the same time and location. Washington Navy Yard, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood and others: The list is long and growing depressingly.
Sadly, gun control is deeply political, with Republican Party politicians loath to get on the wrong side of the National Rifle Association (NRA). It is another instance of the baleful influence wielded by powerful lobby groups and the political cowardice of Capitol Hill even in the face of what is nothing less than a shooting epidemic. Yet, no firm steps are being taken to curb gun sales. US law requires the authorities to be notified only if the same person buys two or more guns at the same time, or within five business days.
The Second Amendment of the US Constitution, adopted in 1791, gives Americans the right to keep and bear arms. But, as the late justice Antonin Scalia had ruled, the amendment protects ownership of the type of guns in common use in that era. The US, in fact, banned military-style automatics for a decade from 1994, with spectacularly positive results. The shootings revived once the ban was not renewed upon expiry.
The tragedy is that after the present outrage dies away, the Las Vegas massacre very likely will fade into history's footnotes until the next mass killing. A polarised gun debate tugged to the extremes can be expected to lead to no meaningful curbs on especially dangerous weapons, although the NRA has made a tiny concession by agreeing to consider curbs on "bump stocks" that help semi-automatics fire like automatic guns. Politicians will continue to baulk at sensible legislation and the arc of history might bend towards protecting the so-called rights of gun-packing individuals despite the blood being shed.