Fifty-nine were killed and 527 were injured Oct. 1 in Las Vegas when 64-year-old Stephen Paddock opened fire on a crowd of concert-goers from the window of his hotel room. But these 586 human beings were not just the victims of a deranged gunman.
They were also the victims of a gun-saturated cultural, governmental and economic system that vehemently reveres the destructive capacity of firearms yet has the audacity to express shock at every grisly, heartbreaking episode of mass violence that is perpetrated by individuals with guns.
Those whose lives were taken were mothers, daughters, sons, fathers, artists, musicians, financial advisors, law enforcement officers, sorority sisters, nurses and small business owners, just to name a few. From all walks of life, they came together under the starlit Las Vegas sky to celebrate life to the tune of good music.
These 586 people were heinously aggreived by Paddock, but to reduce the blame for this tragedy to the deranged inner workings of a single assailant would be exceedingly short-sighted.
The truth is, we can neither honor the victims of this horrific shooting nor prevent these dreadful episodes from occurring if we fail to recognize and address the grim reality that gave rise to the massacre: Guns control America.
The omnipotence of the firearm in the U.S. can be summed up by — and perhaps traced back to — the fact that the right to its possession was penned into the country’s Constitution.
But it is hard to imagine the Founding Fathers could have foreseen the development of semiautomatic rifles capable of firing up to 180 rounds per minute. The Second Amendment was written during a time when the typical firearm was a musket with an effective firing rate of three rounds per minute.
What the Founding Fathers could predict, however, was that changing times may call for a need to alter the Constitution to respond to new needs or threats. Thus, they penned Article V, which states that, “The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution.”
But if policy-makers have the right and duty to amend the Constitution as new concerns arise — for instance, an epidemic of 521 mass shootings in the 477 days since the Pulse shooting — what is stopping them? Why do they continue to helplessly tweet their “thoughts and prayers” to those affected by mass shootings instead of passing laws that, say, prevent individuals from legally stockpiling 33 firearms in 12 months, as Paddock did?
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that whatever weight may hold down their hearts when a white man slaughters dozens of people is not enough to offset the weight of the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) lobbying money in their pockets.
According to The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research organization that tracks the relationship between lobbying and public policy, the NRA spent $54.4 million on the 2016 election cycle alone.
The NRA has consistently encouraged politicians to loosen the U.S.’s already weak gun restrictions by spending outrageous sums of money lobbying the people who pledge to serve all citizens equally.
For instance, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the NRA spent $37 million on lobbying 54 senators “who voted in 2015 against a measure prohibiting people on the government’s terrorist watch list from buying guns.” The only Democrat to vote against the measure was Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.
The NRA’s attempts to deregulate the sale of guns has been so successful that there are now “more gun clubs and gun shops in America than McDonalds,” according to the New York Times, and “almost as many privately-owned firearms in this country as there are people living inside it,” according to the Washington Post.
As we have come to witness all too consistently, the pervasiveness of such powerful weapons has resulted in this country being one where catastrophes like Las Vegas are embedded into the fabric of everyday life.
Indeed, the numbers show that gun violence in the U.S. is outrageously high.
Everytown Research Center, a nonprofit group that tracks firearm violence in the U.S., reports that the U.S.’s gun homicide rate is 25 times the average of other developed countries. Everytown also reports that, on an average day, 93 Americans are killed with guns. That’s almost twice as many people as were killed in Vegas.
These numbers are by no means comparable to those of any other developed country, and that is no accident. It is the result of the domination of the U.S.'s legislative system and social imaginary by a tremendous economic power and cultural symbol.
The victims of the Las Vegas attack gathered together for a night that should have been full of joy and festivity. Instead, they were subjected to a terrible mass shooting, and the blame is not merely on a 64-year-old gunman but also on the fundamentally defective system that enabled this – and countless other – attacks.
Renee Perez is a junior majoring in political science and economics.