Editorial: How many need to die before we crack down on guns?

  • Students from University of Nevada Las Vegas held a vigil on Oct. 2 in Las Vegas following the devastating mass shooting. ap photo

Monday, October 09, 2017

The arsenal is terrifying: 23 guns in the 32nd-floor suite at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas, including 12 semi-automatic rifles equipped with “bump stocks” that allowed them to fire continuously. These were the weapons used to hunt humans as Stephen Craig Paddock unleashed 10 minutes of hell on the outdoor country music festival below.

The toll: 58 dead and 527 others wounded before Paddock killed himself.

The carnage became the deadliest mass shooting in modern United States history, less than 16 months after the last such milestone was reached — 49 killed and 58 hurt at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, 2016. Six months earlier, 14 died and 22 were injured in San Bernardino, California. During the past 10 years, nearly 350 Americans have died in mass shootings.

The victims are people who tragically are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Among them is Rhonda LeRocque, 42, of Tewksbury, a wife, mother and member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who died last Sunday night in Las Vegas. She was at the concert with her husband, 6-year-old daughter and father-in law. Her relatives were not hurt.

Carol Marquis, LeRocque’s grandmother, told The Boston Globe, “All I know is someone started shooting and people are running and she got shot in the head. And we lost a dear, close, good person — one of the nicest people you will ever meet in your life.”

Natalie Vanderstay, a 43-year-old nurse from Los Angeles, is among the survivors, despite being shot in the stomach and having her leg shredded, apparently by shrapnel. From her bed at the University Medical Center in Las Vegas last week, she described the horror that she will never forget — the dead and dying, the people she couldn’t help.

“People were screaming. And the screams got louder and louder. I felt this force in my stomach and I knew that I had gotten shot … it felt like a huge baseball, just the force of it going through my stomach.

“There were people that were dead. There was a guy, his eye was blown out, and I couldn’t help him.”

Authorities have yet to offer any clues about what drove Paddock’s murderous rampage, but does motive really matter? It is known that Paddock, a high-stakes gambler and real-estate investor, had amassed 47 firearms — rifles, shotguns and pistols — that authorities said were recovered from the hotel suite and two properties he owned in Nevada. Apparently, all were purchased legally. Explosives and 1,600 rounds of ammunition were found in his car, parked with the hotel valet.

No American needs to possess that kind of firepower.

Republican leaders in Washington, D.C., initially offered little conviction that this latest massacre will move them toward meaningful gun control legislation.

“We’ll be talking about gun laws as time goes by,” President Donald Trump said Tuesday.

“I think it’s premature to be discussing legislative solutions, if there are any,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, offered.

Finally on Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, who said he was unaware of “bump stocks” before the Las Vegas shooting, allowed, “Clearly that’s something we need to look into.”

Also Thursday, the National Rifle Association, the largest pro-gun lobby in the country, said that devices like bump stocks “should be subject to additional regulations.” While that may be a good first step, far more is needed for meaningful gun legislation.

Earlier in the week, Ryan was more interested in talking about mental health reform. “One of the things we’ve learned from these shootings is often underneath this is a diagnosis of mental illness.”

While there’s truth to that, it’s guns in the hands of mentally ill people that allows them to kill scores of Americans. One senator who understands that is Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, who was the congressman for Newtown when 20 children and six adults were killed by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.

“Nowhere but America do horrific large-scale mass shootings happen with this degree of regularity. (Last Sunday) night’s massacre may go down as the deadliest in our nation’s history, but already this year there have been more mass shootings than days in the year,” Murphy said.

“This must stop. It is positively infuriating that my colleagues in Congress are so afraid of the gun industry that they pretend there aren’t public policy responses to this epidemic. There are, and the thoughts and prayers of politicians are cruelly hollow if they are paired with continued legislative indifference,” he continued.

How much higher does the body count need to climb before America’s leaders find the will to stem the gun violence?