Another deranged guy with unlimited access to guns and ammunition.
That was my first thought upon hearing about the shootings in Las Vegas.
Don’t let him be a Black Lives Matter proponent … or a person with autism … or a Muslim – that’s what came next. Don’t let the shooter be someone whose identity and convictions will be used by the right to tar everyone with the same brush, as a pretext for profiling and crackdowns.
Meanwhile, some at the opposite end of the political spectrum were undoubtedly hoping that the shooter wasn’t a white supremacist … or a Christian evangelical … or a Republican party activist.
In this insanely polarized environment, on both the left and the right, our knee-jerk response is to hope that the killer wasn’t one of us. After all, if he’s one of them, if he’s a fill-in-the-blank fanatic, that would reaffirm our convictions that we’re the maligned good guys.
Of course ISIS has claimed responsibility, but so far the FBI and other sources say there is no evidence of any connection between Paddock and jihadists. Liberals will take that as vindication, right-wing racists as a cover-up, Muslims as a cause for relief. Conspiracy theorists on both the left and the right will take it as a lie, suspecting either the Clinton-lovers in the FBI or the Trump-lovers in the Justice Department of hiding evidence of their own incompetence. Indeed, on sites like Breitbart, commenters are already accusing the mainstream media or the “Federal Bureau of Islam” of hiding Stephen Paddock’s connection to jihadists or AntiFas.
But here are the available facts: Stephen Paddock was a prosperous white guy, a former Texas landlord, a professional gambler, the son of a convicted bank robber and psychopath who played no role in his sons’ lives. That’s about all we know as of now — that, plus the fact that in his hotel room, he had over 20 weapons, including semi-automatic AR-15s (though in Nevada, he could have legally owned automatic machine guns as well), with more guns at home.
We may yet learn that Paddock was moved to his horrific actions by some set of political convictions. More likely, we’ll find out that he was driven over the edge by gambling debts and was an exemplar of what Hannah Arendt famously described as the “banality of evil.”
My first thought was the right one. Absent any ideological motives, Paddock was just another deranged guy with unlimited access to guns and ammunition. So were Dylann Roof and Adam Lanza and every other mass killer in the past 50 years. But raise that as the problem, challenge an industry whose products are responsible for 11,600 deaths and 273 mass killings in 2017 alone — and those of us agitating for far stricter constraints on the types and number of weapons people can buy are charged with “politicizing” the issue.
Fifty-nine people are dead, over 500 injured, but AWR Hawkins, “Second Amendment Columnist” for Breitbart News makes fending off renewed calls for gun control his primary concern. “When the left pushes for background checks after an attack,” he notes, “it is easy to get the impression that there are no background checks.” He goes on to triumphantly observe that Paddock passed the requisite background checks before purchasing three of the weapons in his extravagant collection.
Hawkins is right — background checks aren’t sufficient. If we are to stop the slaughter, we’ve got to severely limit the availability of the weapons themselves.
Trying to preempt any meaningful conversation about gun control — trying to degrade the topic as merely “political” — isn’t the unique province of the alt-right. Texas Sen. John Cornyn said that “politicizing” the shooting was “beyond disgusting,” and President Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, also rebuffed questions on this topic by saying, “I think that there will be certainly time for that policy discussion to take place, but that's not the place that we're in at this moment.”
Of course that didn’t stop her from reaffirming her boss’s support for the Second Amendment or from warning against drafting “laws that won't create or stop these type of [shootings] from happening.”
If Congress could pass legislation prohibiting hurricanes and other “natural” forms of mass destruction, they’d do so in a heartbeat. So the political question here isn’t which publications Paddock read or what party he voted for. Rather, it's this: If a person who kills dozens of people from the 32nd floor is "pure evil," what are the people who, for pure profit and personal gain, prevent society from enacting any means of limiting such a person from obtaining guns and ammo?