American Carnage: Las Vegas
I use words for a living. But following the massacre of innocents at a country music concert in Las Vegas, they are painfully inadequate. The easily accessible ones: sick, angry, despondent, they don’t come close, and I am merely a spectator. The grieving families, friends and communities — I can’t begin to think of the words their mouths fail to form.
Words fail us because they cannot ever be enough. Neither are thoughts and prayers, which are not without value, but they will not protect one more man, woman or child from a violent gun death. If I were planning a funeral for a loved one right now, I think I’d have choice words for people’s thoughts and prayers, regardless of how sincerely they are intended.
Here’s what I was up all-night thinking. This is an event of radically unequal proportion. On one side, you have one person, a mass murder, about whom we know little. He was a representation of success, a very wealthy white man in his mid-60s, whose family says he had no political affiliations or evidence of mental illness. And with one night, he now represents unflinching destruction and cruelty. But he is one. The worst of humanity.
On the other side you have thousands of people — from first responders and police, to civilians with medical chops and straight up everyday people who acted with unspeakable bravery and caring. Strangers lay on top of strangers to shield them from the spray of bullets. People carried others to safety, pushed them over walls and into freezer compartments in efforts to protect them. A band of quick thinking folk collected belts and created makeshift tourniquets to stop victims from bleeding to death. Thousands of those not directly impacted lined the streets for hours on end to donate blood, food, whatever care they could offer. The other side of one heinous person is the many thousands who represent the very best of humanity.
How can one person’s evil have such dominion over the good of so many?
Because millions of dollars have been poured into perfecting the science of killing, and into safeguarding the anachronistic priorities of those who feel it is critical to not only have the right to bear arms, but to have the right to concealed weapons, and silencers, and semiautomatic arms capable of bringing down more than 500 people in 10 minutes. Guns are the world’s most efficient killing machine. The same man with a knife, or a club, or even a truck barreling towards the crowd could not have inflicted the same damage.
Our national culture feels forged at the barrel of a gun. 33,000 gun deaths every year, and even with the horrific (but not historic, as some suggest) death toll from Las Vegas, mass shootings don’t significantly drive up the numbers. Gun deaths are an everyday part of American life. Guns enable toddlers to accidentally shoot their siblings, or their parents, or themselves. Guns make suicidal actions by depressed individuals cut a person’s story short before they get help. Two-thirds of gun deaths in the U.S. are suicides. And while 85 percent of gun deaths are male, guns make gender violence especially deadly for women. In the U.S., more than twice as many women are shot and killed by their husband or intimate acquaintance than are murdered by strangers using guns, knives, or any other means.
Please, let’s not waste our limited breath arguing with grandstanders with gun fetishes. People who want change are the disparate majority here. And also, let’s not get distracted or nibble around the edges of this problem. Clearly, it’s not the hunters and sport shooters that are the problem. And while mass murderers are usually not from the millions of responsible gun owners who lock their weapons appropriately, even those legal handguns used for personal protection contribute to accidents, domestic violence and suicides.
And there is no reason on the planet why a civilian would need an AR-15, AK-47 or any other high capacity semiautomatic weapon. The Las Vegas shooter, a man with apparently no specialized military or firearms training, was somehow able to use “bump stocks,” legal modifications that make it possible to shoot a semi-automatic weapon at the rate of a machine gun. Fifty-eight people murdered and more than 500 injured in 10 minutes of “shooting fish in a barrel.” Except they are not fish. They are our brothers and sisters, parents and children, beloved friends and brave strangers. They are some of the best of us, gunned down by one man at his worst, legally armed.
Here’s a radical idea. Let’s refuse to accept this as the American narrative. Let’s start with the failed legislation to close screening holes at gun shows, prevent those currently diagnosed with a mental illness from obtaining a gun, and reject efforts to make silencers easier to get. Let’s invest in research through the CDC and other experts to find and promulgate solutions to this plague of gun violence, which is clearly a modern American public health crisis.
We cannot expect the White House or the congress members who feed at the NRA trough to help. Trump accepted $30M from them for his presidential run and has joked that shooting people wouldn’t diminish his popularity. And make no mistake about it, the NRA is the wealthiest and most effective lobby in the US. They oppose every measure aimed at making better laws to keep people safe, refusing to give up political ground for even the most common-sense regulations, despite the reality that 93 people die from guns in the U.S. every day.
We can be sick, angry and despondent, but we cannot be silent. We can be shaken to our core, but we cannot allow our broken hearts to paralyze us. We need to be the many that represent the best part of humanity.
Here are a few things you can do right now:
- Say to yourself out loud that you cannot live with this epidemic of gun violence any longer. That thoughts and prayers aren’t enough. That you are in the majority of Americans from all political parties and regions who wants common sense laws to keep people safe.
- Decide that you will not get into circular arguments on 2A with people like Bill O’Reilly who claim gun massacres such as Las Vegas are “the price we pay for freedom.”
- Educate yourself online via thetrace.org or @teamtrace; follow expert data sources like Gun Violence Archive @GunDeaths and Smart Gun Laws @smartgunlaws and visit bbc.com for informative charts.
- Dialogue with reasonably-minded gun owners, among whom 64% support tighter restrictions on firearms.
- Commit to calling your representatives in congress about upcoming bills (and actually do it). Call your House member and ask him/her to block the deregulation of gun silencers. Call your Senators and House member and oppose overriding state restrictions on concealed carry.
- Get involved with one of the groups actively opposing the NRA and doing the work our legislature should: Moms Demand Action, Sandy Hook Promise, Americans for Responsible Solutions, Everytown for Gun Safety and others. Follow their social channels, take part in their advocacy and, if you can, give generously to support their work.