What does one say in the face of horror that unfolded yesterday?
Twenty-two thousand men and women enjoying a country music festival in the middle of Las Vegas, watching Jason Aldean play on an outdoors stage. Minutes into the performance, sustained (seemingly) automatic fire starts raking through the audience and continues to fall onto the site for around five minutes. At the end of the barrage, 59 people are dead and 527 people are injured.
It transpires that a shooter (at this stage most probably a lone one) is firing from a corner room on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, which is diagonally from the festival site across a busy intersection. He is in effect several hundred metres away and on an substantial elevation above the crowd. It’s 10:08pm.
By the time a SWAT team enters his hotel room around midnight they find him dead from a self-inflicted wound.
It’s the deadliest mass shooting in the US history, claiming ten more dead than the recent Pulse nightclub terrorist rampage in Florida.
The shooter, 64-year old Stephen Paddock, so far remains a cipher. Son of a bank robber (and a psychopath), but himself a retired accountant and successful property investor as well as an amateur gambler, he does not appear to have any obvious political or religious links (despite being claimed by ISIS as one of their own); in fact his motives are completely unknown at this stage. He had no criminal record, and despite having a hunting license, his family was not aware of any particular interest in guns. Yet ten have been found in the hotel room (and more at his home) – at least some of them must be fully automatic machine guns or at the very least assault rifles judging from the audio of the shooting.
Is it a terrorist act? Well, we don’t know yet. Not every atrocity is an act of terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic used in the pursuit of a cause, whether political or religious, be it fascism, socialism, or Islamism, racial supremacy or national liberation, or even anarchism. But by definition, killing for no apparent reason, as evil as it is, is not terrorism. More, no doubt, will emerge about Paddock, his life, and his possible motives to enable us to say more on this topic. Whether terrorism or not, however, this is pure evil.
Would stricter gun control laws have prevented this horror? Considering at least one fully automatic weapon seem to have been used, it seems unlikely. For those interested in the topic, read this excellent summary by Sean Davis; automatic weapon are rare (by American standards) and extremely heavily regulated. Since the 1930s, only three crimes have been committed in the United States with legal automatic weapons (two of them by police officers).
P.S. The eerie sight of the pyramid-shaped Luxor casino and hotel, next door to Mandalay Bay and across the street from the site of the massacre, reminded me of my own recent visit to the original Luxor in Egypt (which has many temples, tombs and monuments, but no pyramids), itself a site of an infamous terrorist massacre some twenty years ago – 56 dead – and my thoughts about the fear of terrorism driving tourists away from places like Egypt. I noted that there have not been any terrorist attacks targeting tourists in Egypt for a long time, and I wrote:
As for terrorist attacks in Nice, London or Brussels, it’s hard to see how they make the streets of Cairo, Alexandria or Luxor in any way less safe. In fact, in light of the continuing terrorist attacks in Europe, the streets of Cairo, Alexandria or Luxor are arguably safer for tourists than those of Nice, London or Brussels.
Or, tragically, Las Vegas.