Last night, some 22,000 people were attending the Route 91 Harvest, a country music festival held annually in Las Vegas. Jason Aldean was approximately 30 minutes into his performance when 64-year-old Stephen Paddock opened fire from his room on the 32nd floor of the hotel at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, firing a hail of bullets on the crowd below.
The first shot was fired at 10:08 PM; the crowd scattered, driven into a panic by the devastation raining down on them from an unknown location. Eyewitnesses described the scene as chaotic, with concertgoers trampling one another in the rush to get to safety. For five minutes, the shooting continued, an endless barrage of bullets that ceased only when the Las Vegas Police Department’s SWAT Team breached the door to Paddock’s room.
Under normal circumstances, five minutes is a relatively short amount of time. Five minutes of continuous gunfire, however, is an eternity. Police have not yet confirmed the specific weapon used by Paddock, but early reports have indicated that he was using a fully-automatic machine gun.
An average machine gun has a cyclical rate of 600-1200 bullets per minute, meaning Paddock could — in theory, at least — have fired anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 bullets during his rampage. Factoring in time for reloading and pauses, it is not unreasonable that Paddock released something approaching 1,000 rounds. In five minutes.
That Paddock’s rampage only lasted five minutes is attributable more to sheer luck than anything else — there was so much smoke from the constant gunfire that the fire alarm went off in Paddock’s room, alerting the SWAT Team to his location and saving them precious time that might otherwise have been spent clearing other rooms, all while his massacre continued.
Fifty-eight people are dead (including Paddock, who reportedly shot himself moments before the SWAT Team entered) and more than 500 are injured; both totals are likely to rise as the day goes on. It is the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, surpassing the previous record set…less than a year and a half ago.
Like most of us, I woke up this morning to the news of the events in Las Vegas. By this time, however, the wheels of competing ideologies had already begun to churn in earnest. There were renewed calls for stricter gun control, followed by counterarguments that now isn’t the time to discuss gun control. Ben Shapiro’s reasons are particularly elegant: We don’t know Paddock’s motive; we don’t know how Paddock acquired the guns; and you shouldn’t make policy after a tragedy.
The first two arguments Shapiro presents are thunderously stupid — Paddock used a gun to kill 58 people. His motive for the shooting and his method of acquiring the guns do not matter, and arguing that we can’t even think about stricter gun control until we have All The Facts is nonsense, especially considering we’ll likely never know Paddock’s motive. Shapiro’s third point, albeit indirectly, highlights the main problem with the gun control debate. After every mass shooting, gun rights advocates chide those calling for stricter gun laws for “politicizing a tragedy.” The problem is, we’re never that far removed from the last tragedy.
It’s a very convenient deflection: bring up gun control in the wake of yet another massacre, and you’re accused of using the tragedy to play politics. Which begs the question, how long do we have to wait between mass shootings before we can discuss the possibility of stricter gun laws? Eighteen months? A year? Two years? Ten? And if by some miracle the appropriate amount of time passes, any calls to revisit the debate on gun control will invariably be met with “Well, we haven’t had a mass shooting in [X] months, so obviously this isn’t a problem.”
By claiming that “Liberals are politicizing the gun control debate,” conservatives are attempting to frame themselves as completely apolitical. Yet in the chaos of the immediate aftermath of last night’s shooting, sites like The Gateway Pundit scrambled to find any indicator of the shooter’s political leanings. They misidentified the man they believed was the shooter, then posted an article titled “Las Vegas Shooter Reportedly A Democrat Who Liked Rachel Maddow, MoveOn.org and Associated with Anti-Trump Army.” (It turns out they had the wrong guy; rather than issue a correction, they deleted the post. Luckily, nothing on the internet is truly gone.)
Other sites have latched onto Paddock’s girlfriend and her recent travel to Dubai, claiming this is evidence that she…joined ISIS. (ISIS has taken credit for this shooting; however, at this point, there is zero — and I do mean zero — evidence to suggest that the Islamic State had anything to do with Paddock’s actions.)
This dance has gone on for decades, and it needs to stop. Saying we need to limit the kinds of guns to which the average person has unfettered access is not a political statement; if people keep breaking into your car, it is not playing politics to suggest that the law does more to prevent it from happening. Saying “It shouldn’t be so easy for someone to massacre scores of people” isn’t politicization — crying “politicization!” in response is.
Last night’s events did not take place in a vacuum. They took place in a highly-charged and volatile political environment. The conditions that precipitated Paddock’s acquisition of his weapons are political. Pretending gun control and politics are two separate arenas is a distraction and nothing else. And the longer we wait to disabuse ourselves of that notion, the more people will die in the meantime.