On Sunday, the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States commenced in downtown Las Vegas, Nev. The shooter acted with motives that remain unclear. He is responsible for the deaths of at least 59 individuals, and for injuring at least 520 more and terrorizing tens of thousands of people who expected nothing more than to enjoy a night of country music on the Vegas Strip.
Thus far, police have uncovered at least 42 firearms that belonged to the shooter, 23 of which were said to be found at the site of the crime. At his residence, it was later established that he owned 19 more, in addition to “explosives and thousands of bullets.” Now, we ought to be asking ourselves two questions: How did we let this happen, and how are we going to prevent it from happening again?
I do not subscribe to the convenient, albeit perhaps well-intentioned, notion that now is “not the time” to engage in such a discussion. In fact, it is more than prudent to do so, and I would contend that the would-be victims of the next senseless act of violence of this magnitude (which, God willing, never takes place at all) are depending on us to act.
I am not advocating for an unconstitutional governmental seizure of weapons as some on the left have. Rather, I am advocating that a conversation must take place which addresses where the line ought to be drawn (or redrawn) on citizen-owned weaponry, and what proactive measures could prevent a future incident.
After all, we seem to already have a fairly common understanding that “the right to bear arms” does not apply to intercontinental ballistic missiles, artillery pieces or other weapons of war. Why, then, is a mentally ill individual who can pass a background check—which, inherently, is reactive rather than proactive—able to purchase and presumably modify a weapon fit for the jungles of Vietnam or the streets of Fallujah?
The perpetrator in the Vegas shooting used an assault rifle modified to be fully automatic, a fact that was more than audible to anyone listening to the haunting footage that was quickly disseminated that fateful evening. Perhaps part of this comes down to loopholes that are in dire need of a strong sealant.
For instance, the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA)—which revised aspects of the Gun Control Act of 1968, signed into law under President Johnson—banned civilian ownership of new, fully automatic weapons. However, as the law currently stands, weapons made prior to the date of FOPA’s implementation are legal to possess and, barring that, conversion kits for weapons originally designed in compliance with the Act are fairly easy to find.
Remedying this, one would think, would be relatively pain free and beneficial to attempts to reduce the likelihood of mass-casualty situations. Some will inevitably point to the fact that the use of these weapons is extremely rare, but Sunday rendered that argument moot, as the new deadliest mass shooting exposed further vulnerabilities largely derived from flawed, firearm-related jurisprudence.
While the details of this particular tragedy remain in flux, lawmakers around the country should nonetheless pursue avenues of amelioration to protect their respective citizenry. We cannot operate under the assumption that these events will occur regardless, or that we exist in a hopeless state wherein all of us could be victims of gun violence at any time and that there is little to nothing that can be done to change that circumstance. I, for one, refuse to accept this increasingly existential crisis as normal.
We may not be able to repair the families that have already been destroyed by this epidemic—from Columbine, to Aurora, to Newtown, to Orlando, to San Bernardino, to Virginia Tech, to Charleston, to Fort Hood, to Las Vegas, ad infinitum—but surely it is within our capacity to prevent the next round of suffering, to some degree. Surely we can think of something.
A society as advanced as ours has no excuse to be rolling over on an abnormality of this nature. It is not enough to pray or hope for this national nightmare to go away, and so we must demand change. Not unconstitutional change, but responsible, rational attempts to curb gun violence must be pursued if we are to unburden ourselves from the yoke of this deeply disturbing phenomenon.
Michael J. Hout is a Collegian columnist, and may be reached at [email protected]