One man – 64-year-old Stephen Craig Paddock – positioned himself in a hotel room overlooking a concert that attracted 22,000 people in Las Vegas, then killed at least 58 and injured more than 500 people within minutes.
While it’s hard to absorb the horror of that reality, we should not fool ourselves. Such an event is not a surprise in a country that experiences more mass shootings than any other nation in the world, a country that doesn’t seem unnerved that we lose the equivalent of more than 10 Sept. 11s worth of Americans to shooting deaths every year.
Shootings have become so routine that we frequently ignore or downplay news of a man killing his entire family or double or triple homicides. Never mind that suicide attempts are most effective – deadly – when a person chooses a gun than by any other means. Many of us may not even know that in recent years gun deaths have begun to rival deaths caused by car accidents.
Only something of the magnitude of what happened in Las Vegas Sunday night occasionally wakes us from our slumber, or when a shooting confirms a particular hobby horse – terrorism – even though Americans have long been at much greater risk of death or harm from fellow Americans wielding high-powered weapons or pistols than terrorists in suicide vests.
When 29-year-old Omar Mateen shot up a gay nightclub in Florida, it received more attention because the shooter had pledged allegiance to ISIS than because of the number of families affected. When James T. Hodgkinson shot up a Republican baseball practice this summer, the outrage quickly turned to the shooter’s political beliefs. Killings in Chicago are often spoken about nationally, not to empathize with those in neighborhoods that experience multiple drive-by shootings, but as a deflection from debates about suspicious police shootings.
After the headlines die down and the TV trucks pack up and leave the scene, we go right back to sleep, seemingly unmoved by the daily carnage.
It’s notable that experts of war and law enforcement tell us that it is hard to train a person to take the life of a fellow human being, that for some of our history, soldiers on the front lines of active wars would refuse to shoot at the enemy – even if it meant they would be killed themselves – and that most police officers spend their entire careers never firing their weapons while on duty.
Given that truth, how did we create a society in which more than 33,000 people are taken by gun violence every year?
There are measures available that can lessen the chances of mass shootings and cut down on the gun deaths that happen every day. Improved background checks on purchases. More accessible mental health care. More sharing between states of mental health issues of gun buyers. Bans on automatic weapons or high-capacity magazines.
Americans want some, if not all, of these done. We often claim we are the greatest country in the world. But should the greatest country in the world really settle for this level of carnage?