The View From Asia

Las Vegas shooting and white privilege in United States

After the deadliest mass shooting in US history, Asia News Network commentators weigh in on gun control, money politics and race in American society. Here are excerpts of their commentaries.

US should debate gun control laws


The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan

A tragedy has occurred after lethal weapons like those used in combat were taken with ease into the downtown area of a tourist destination. How long will the United States allow such an abnormality to continue?

A 64-year-old man opened fire on a crowd at an outdoor concert venue from his 32nd-floor hotel room in central Las Vegas, leaving about 600 people dead or injured. It is the deadliest mass shooting in US history. A large quantity of firearms, including rifles, ammunition, gun scopes and tripods for fixing the weapons in place were shockingly found in the hotel room. The firearms had been modified to enable rapid fire and increase their accuracy. The suspect clearly planned and prepared for the mass killing meticulously. It is alarming that the police and the hotel failed to detect the transport of so many weapons.

The suspect is believed to have killed himself before the police stormed the room. He is said to be a lone wolf with no connections to terrorist or extremist groups.

Guns can be easily purchased in the US, with about 300 million firearms in circulation. It is estimated that there is one gun for every person in the country.

A memorial for the Las Vegas mass-shooting victims near the city's iconic welcome sign. PHOTO: NYTIMES

In 1994, a law with a 10-year statute was enacted banning the manufacture of assault weapons that discharge a high number of rounds in short periods of time.

The ban expired in 2004. Mass shootings occur routinely, with "soft targets", places where large crowds gather, being targeted.

Although many elementary school pupils have fallen victim to shootings and federal lawmakers have been seriously wounded, no progress has been made on tightening gun control.

A debate should take place.

Politics behind tragedy


Dawn, Pakistan

If there is one piece of news that emerges at regular intervals from the US, it is about gun violence.

In what turned out to be the deadliest such incident in modern US history, at least 58 people died and over 500 were injured when Stephen Paddock, from his vantage point on the 32nd floor of a nearby hotel, unloaded his weapons into the crowd below. The firing ended only with Paddock's suicide, just as the police stormed the hotel suite where he was holed up.

While Paddock's motives may be unclear thus far, the incident has revived the debate in the US about its lax gun laws that allow unstable and violent individuals access to deadly weapons, often with terrible consequences. Between 2001 and 2010, there were over 400,000 gun deaths in the US, of which more than 153,000 were homicides. The solution, although not black-and-white, points towards strengthening regulations on the purchase of firearms, a position that a majority of Americans support.

However, efforts to bring about even common-sense restrictions fail repeatedly because they come up against one of the most powerful interest groups in the country: the National Rifle Association (NRA).

With its enormous resources that it pours into the election campaigns of many politicians, the NRA exerts an outsize influence over the US Congress. Therefore, when demands are made for gun legislation to be tightened, usually in the aftermath of a mass murder incident, most lawmakers obfuscate the issue with tropes about the constitutionally protected right to bear arms or the fallacious argument that it is people, not guns, that kill.

Significantly, even when mass murderers are driven by extremist motives, the response centres on the politics of religious extremism and its international dimensions, while the clear and present danger is neatly sidestepped. The stonewalling on gun laws is as much, if not more, about politics.

Lone wolf, and privilege

Rina Jimenez-David

Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippines

I'm sure that many folk, hearing news of the mass shooting in Las Vegas and the awful toll in lives, immediately wondered if it wasn't somehow an act of terrorism. "Terrorism", that is, in terms of being the work of an organised group of killers, foreign almost certainly, who want the mayhem and murder to send a politically charged message.

But, as far as US law enforcement is concerned, the deadly rampage turned out to be the handiwork of a single person and, as is increasingly the case in America, the shooter turned out to be a white male, described in most accounts as a "lone wolf".

In his think piece on the non-profit website The Intercept, Mr Shaun King wrote of conversations he had with two people, one black and the other Muslim, in the wake of Stephen Paddock's actions.

"Both of them said that, when they heard about this awful shooting in Las Vegas, they immediately began hoping that the shooter was not black or Muslim. Why? Because they knew that the blowback on all African-Americans or Muslims would be fierce if the shooter hailed from one of those communities."

Mr King commented: "Something is deeply wrong when people feel a sense of relief that the shooter is white because they know that means they won't suffer as a result."

White people, on the other hand, posited Mr King, "had no such feeling (after the shooting) because 400 years of American history tells them that no such consequences will exist for them today as a result of Paddock's actions".

This "is an exemplar of white privilege: Not just being given a head start in society, but also the freedom from certain consequences of individual and group actions". Or to put it simply, in Mr King's words, "whiteness, somehow, protects men from being labelled terrorists".

A review of recent American history, even just a listing of mass shootings in the past 20 years or so, would show that the "majority of mass shooters in this country (were) white American". And that simple fact, said Mr King, "changes absolutely everything about the way this horrible moment gets discussed in the media and the national discourse".

No one is saying - in American media - that white men present a danger to American lives. Not even middle-aged, retired, wealthy and inveterate gamblers like Paddock.

  • The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner, Asia News Network, a grouping of 23 news media entities.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2017, with the headline 'Las Vegas shooting and white privilege in United States'. Print Edition | Subscribe