By Khalil Spencer.
On Sunday night in Las Vegas, a shooter opened fire on a concert from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay resort with what appeared to be an assault weapon. This is a devastating tragedy, and one that has unfortunately become a trend in the U.S.: There has been an average of one mass shooting a day in 2017 (defined as four or more people shot, excluding the shooter). This incident has eclipsed all previous mass shootings in U.S. history, as there are already 58 people dead and hundreds wounded.
What kind of weapon is capable of inflicting so many casualties, from such a distance, in a matter of 10 to 15 minutes? While we don’t know where the gunman got his weapons and precise information on them has not been disclosed, based on reports of the rate of fire, they were likely either semiautomatic or fully automatic assault weapons. Semiautomatic assault weapons (whose trigger must be pulled to fire each round) have a rate of fire of over 100 rounds a minute. These weapons were banned from 1994 to 2004 under what is commonly referred to as the “assault weapon ban,” and are now readily available for sale in all but six states. There are reports that the shooter might have fired an automatic weapon (one just presses the trigger and the weapon keeps firing until it is released), which can fire up to a thousand rounds a minute. These weapons are tightly regulated. Regardless of the rate of fire, many of these weapons can pierce a soldier’s helmet from a distance of 500 yards.
More than half of the deadliest mass shootings since 1949 have occurred in the last decade, I’ve found in my own research. This is despite improved emergency response and better surgical outcomes. The only credible explanation for the increased lethality of these incidents is deadlier weapons and ammunition. Assault-style firearms have been the weapons of choice in many of the deadliest mass shootings in recent history: Orlando, Fla., Newtown, Conn., and San Bernardino, Calif.
The incident in Las Vegas reveals the fallacy of the tired slogan, “Guns don’t kill, people do.” Yes, we need to address why so many Americans are attempting to kill a maximum of their fellows at random. At the same time, only a weapon designed for war could kill so many people from such a distance. High-capacity magazines capable of holding up to 100 rounds of ammunition only make that danger worse.
These weapons and magazines should never be in civilian hands and should be banned. Obviously, this is a tall order given the influence of the gun lobby on the Trump administration and majority party in Congress. But it’s not impossible. Existing weapons can be bought back from owners at a fair market price and destroyed. Australia melted down up to a third of its gun inventory following its deadliest-ever mass shooting in 1996, and has all but eliminated public mass shootings.
The gun lobby claims to champion freedom. Yet every successive large-scale mass shooting leads to an increasing demand for security and a continuing erosion of Americans’ freedom to use public spaces without fear. Citizens need to sustain their outrage over this incident and demand restrictions on ownership of assault-style weapons.
This article originally appeared in Fortune Magazine.
In 2015, eight major medical organizations and the American Bar Association issued a joint announcement calling gun violence a national health crisis and calling for more aggressive intervention on the part of the medical profession. Conspicuously absent from the list of medical organizations was the AAST, or American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, whose 1,200 surgeon members are on the front lines when it comes to doctors dealing with gun violence, because they happen to be the physicians whose skill and training come into play just about every time that someone is shot with a gun and at least is still alive when they are wheeled through the Emergency Room doors. And while the AAST called for restrictions on the sale of assault rifles after Sandy Hook, some of their fellows in the American College of Surgeons, which endorsed the manifesto in 2015, are now promoting an ingenious method to reduce gun injuries, or at least making it more likely that when someone is shot they won’t wind up dead.
The program, called ‘Stop The Bleed,’ was actually a brainchild of someone in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under the Obama Administration. It is both an ‘awareness campaign’ and a ‘call to action.’ It encourages the public “to become trained, equipped and empowered to help in a bleeding emergency before professional help arrives.” This effort grew out of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, when the quick action of bystanders at the finish line may have prevented many badly-injured onlookers from ending up dead.
Most of these bystanders who swung into action after the bombs went off weren’t just Tom, Dick, Harry and Louise. In fact, for the most part they were medical students and doctors, not necessarily with any trauma experience but certainly knowledgeable enough to understand that the bright, red liquid coming out of someone’s mouth was blood. There were plenty of thing that non-medical personnel could do: moving barriers so that ambulances could arrive, keeping onlookers away from spaces where necessary emergency equipment was set down, and so forth. But the bottom line is that there are six major medical centers in downtown Boston and staff from those hospitals happened to be either running or watching the marathon that day.
But this is America, and in America you can bet that any government program promoting anything will always be an opportunity for some entrepreneurial bunch to figure out how they can make a fast buck. And if you want to spend a fast buck on what you need to ‘equipped and empowered’ to lend a helping hand, take a look at the products offered by a company, Tactical Medical Solutions,’ and notice the picture which adorns their site. What this crude attempt to cash in on how the military patrols a street in Afghanistan or Iraq has to do with whether a civilian can help a crash or burn victim is beyond me. But for just $29.95 you can buy a Tactical Tourniquet or the SOF Tactical Tourniquet for just $26.78. And don’t worry about being prepared – for every product on the website you can download an instructional video that shows you everything you need to know in 4 minutes or less.
The guiding hand behind the idea that civilians can provide medical assistance in cases of trauma is Lenworth Jacobs, M.D., who directs the Trauma Institute at Hartford Hospital and got the American College of Surgeons on board to support this effort as well. Too bad that nobody in the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs didn’t have some of these life-saving products on hand, but I don’t notice Dr. Jacobs saying anything about what Americans need to do in order to respond to the next mass shooting event.
I always thought the role of physicians was to identify and reduce medical risk, at least that’s what the Hippocratic Oath tells them to do. The real risk at Sutherland Springs wasn’t the lack of tactical tourniquet kits – it was the existence of an AR-15.
Just one month after the worst mass shooting in modern American history in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in a place of worship occurred at The First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The gunman, Devin Patrick Kelley, killed 26 people and wounded 20 others on Sunday with an AR-556 assault rifle.
President Donald Trump condemned the act as “evil,” and called it “a mental health problem,” not a “guns situation.” However, a study of 133 mass shootings has shown that, as in the Texas attack, most mass shootings have a domestic violence link, while in just 11% of the incidents were concerns about the mental health of the shooter brought to the attention of a medical practitioner, legal authority, or school official. That study also showed that when assault weapons or high-capacity magazines were used, an average of eight more people were shot, indicating the pivotal role of the weapon in increasing the carnage. Therefore, the prevalence of high-powered weapons in the U.S. is an enormous contributing factor to the growing frequency and lethality of mass shootings. The call to address the nation’s mental health issues is a familiar dodge of those seeking to avoid a discussion of gun policy.
If the president truly believes mass shootings are a mental health issue, why did his administration block the Social Security Administration from reporting mentally impaired recipients of federal aid to a national background check database? These are individuals on disability support who suffer from severe mental illnesses. President Obama had introduced an administrative rule to keep people with severe mental illnesses from purchasing guns, and Trump, demonstrating perhaps his support for the gun lobby’s agenda, signed a measure to overturn this policy.
The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population, but over a third of the mass shootings. Rates of mental illness, while somewhat higher than other countries, fail to account for the enormous gap in the number of mass shootings between the U.S. and other advanced nations. Countries such as the U.K., Germany, and Japan have at most a few dozen gun homicides, and no more than one or two mass shootings per year. By contrast, the U.S. already has had more than 300 mass shootings this year. Therefore, the gap in mass shootings is too great to be explained by more modest differences in the rates of mental illness.
Psychiatrist Richard Friedman writes that psychiatry cannot protect us from mass murderers. He states that while many mass shooters have a severe personality or psychotic disorder, they often avoid the mental health system altogether, as they are not interested in treatment and do not see themselves as ill. He adds that it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict which individuals will become violent. While millions of Americans have a mental disorder or a serious anger management issue, just an infinitesimal fraction will commit these atrocities. Friedman argues that the focus should not be on detecting mass killers in advance, but on the availability of lethal weapons. He points to Australia, a country that has virtually eliminated mass shootings since automatic and semiautomatic long guns were banned.
A greater propensity toward violence also does not explain the disproportionate number of these massacres in the U.S. International crime surveys show that the U.S. is in the middle of the pack with regard to violence in general. But it’s an outlier in lethal violence. This finding suggests that it is the greater prevalence of lethal weapons in the U.S. that leads more altercations to escalate to homicides.
Those seeking reform are likely to be frustrated once again by the absence of bold national legislation, such as that adopted by Australia. We have a president who believes that mass shootings are not a “guns situation,” and a Republican-dominated Congress that has no intention of defying the gun lobby. Recent polling shows that gun rights advocates are more likely to be single-issue voters who are politically active than are those who favor reform. Partisan gerrymandering has also contributed to a more polarized political environment in which representatives in Republican-controlled districts resist gun policy changes, fearing that more conservative candidates, backed by the gun lobby, will challenge them in the primaries.
In this environment, the disgraceful avoidance of this issue by lawmakers is likely to persist, and one wonders what type or level of atrocity will stimulate bold action on their part. When will our elected representatives place a higher value on the lives of their fellow citizens than on weapons of war designed for one purpose: to kill the largest number of people as quickly as possible?
Tom Gabor is a criminologist, sociologist, and author of Confronting Gun Violence in America.
Last week the gun violence prevention (GVP) community went into overdrive when the release of a batch of FBI Sandy Hook documents indicated that the Newtown cops were warned about Adam Lanza’s intention to commit mayhem at least four years before the actual event took place. The information appears in interview notes of an unidentified man who claimed he heard Adam Lanza make the threats which the man claims he transmitted to the local police. According to the man’s testimony, the cop who took the call told him that Nancy Lanza was the legal owner of the guns which meant there was nothing the cops could do but the caller could contact the State Police.
Coming on the heels of Las Vegas, where another shooter evidently killed and wounded more than 500 people with a legally-owned AR, the story out of Newtown only adds fuel to the GVP argument that some way has to be found to keep guns like the AR-15 out of civilian hands.
But there’s only one little problem, namely, that the story full of holes. And it cannot be accepted even on face value, never mind the fact that the Newtown police can’t find any record of someone making such a call, because it would have been simply impossible for someone answering the telephone at the police station to have said what was allegedly said.
Please believe me when I say it’s too bad that facts keep getting in the way of opinions, but the fact is that nobody working for any police agency in Connecticut would have been able to know whether: a) Nancy Lanza owned an AR-15; b) whether she had purchased it legally or where it came from; or, c) whether the State Police should have been contacted or not. Why? Because first of all before 2014, when Connecticut passed a new gun-control law in response to Sandy Hook, purchasing a long gun from a dealer did not require anything other than the standard FBI-NICS check, information which the FBI has to destroy within 24 hours after the check is complete. Purchasing a handgun in CT in 2008 required an additional background check conducted by the State Police and this procedure was then extended to long guns but only after the new law was passed in 2014.
It would have been impossible for anyone employed by the Newtown Police Department to tell a caller about the legal status or even the existence of an AR-15 allegedly owned by someone else. On the other hand, if someone contacts a police department in Newtown, CT or Oshkosh, WI or anywhere, reporting a threat that involves potential injury to numerous individuals isn’t brushed off. There isn’t a police department in the United States which doesn’t have a very clear procedure for responding to a report about the possible commission of a serious crime. Maybe the cops don’t respond immediately, maybe the patrol car goes to the wrong address, but don’t tell me that if I called up and said that someone just told me they were going down to the local elementary school to shoot everyone in sight that I would lean back, yawn and tell the caller to contact the State Police.
Remember when Elliot Rodger rampaged through Isla Vista, CA and killed six people on May 23, 2014? Three weeks earlier his parents contacted the Isla Vista PD and said they were concerned because their son had voiced threats and they were worried about his mental state. The cops dispatched no less than three officers who confronted Elliott outside where he lived but unfortunately made the mistake of forgetting to ask him whether he had any guns. But the bottom line is that police don’t dismiss credible reports about violence which has not yet taken place. And if we are going to advocate measures to reduce gun violence, let’s just make sure our strategies align with the facts.
Our man Shaun Dakin sent me a note the other day expressing profound grief at the degree to which the Las Vegas shooting has slipped from public view. And there’s no question that he’s correct. The issue of bump-stocks is now morphing into a regulatory problem for the ATF and I notice that bump-stock manufacturers are no longer pretending that they’ve shut down and left town. As for any new gun laws, those are just as dead post-Las Vegas as they were dead prior to the rampage event. Shaun also asked me to come up with a theory as to why this event has had such a brief media shelf-life, so here goes.
You would think that the worst mass shooting not just in U.S. history but in the entire history of small-arms would still be making some media noise. But the only media mention in the last few days has been a story about how off-duty cops from California who were in the concert crowd and performed heroic, life-saving efforts have been temporarily denied workmen’s comp so that they can spend some time off the job nursing both physical and mental wounds. The problem may eventually be sorted out but the story has already disappeared.
Talk about disappearing, it now turns out that the shooter, Stephen Paddock, is presumed to have removed a hard drive from his laptop computer before ending his own life. But the hard drive evidently can’t be found. Which raises two interesting questions: How do investigators know that it was Paddock who removed the drive; and where the hell is the drive? Computer memories tend to be a basic piece in evidence when law enforcement attempts to figure out motives, or movements of someone being investigated, particularly if the suspect happens to be dead. I’m still waiting for the Las Vegas Police to announce the results of the ‘internal’ investigation which was going to tell us which cop walked into Paddock’s hotel room and took pictures of him lying there dead. Now we can add another reason for this investigation never to be done.
Getting back to Shaun’s question about how come nobody’s interested in what happened at the Mandalay Bay, I think the quick way in which the whole thing has simmered down is basically a reflection of how the issue was handled by the man at the top. I’m referring here to Trump who made his first statement on Monday which sounded like either someone had put part of Obama’s brain into his head or at least doped him up to the point that he sounded restrained and dignified for the first time in his entire public life. Then he went out to Vegas and not only was quiet and respectful again, but even said words like ‘gun laws,’ a nomenclature which has never previously slipped out of his mouth.
This is the same Trump who bowed and scraped every time Gun-nut Nation accused Hillary of ‘politicizing’ the gun issue whenever she talked about gun violence during the campaign. This is the same Trump who continues to wax eloquent about how mass shooters are just really ‘sick’ guys even though most mass shooters do not present any symptoms of mental illness prior to engaging in a rampage-shooting event.
The afternoon that 28 people were killed at Sandy Hook, Obama went on television and mentioned other mass shootings, said that such events had occurred too many times, and promised to work for a political solution to keep such events from happening again. Two days later he appeared at a prayer vigil at Sandy and promised to “use whatever power this office holds” to stop mass violence caused by guns.
Know what? It’s not mass shootings that have stopped – it’s the attempt to regulate the use of guns which produce mass violence that has come to an end. Which is why Las Vegas is no longer an issue of media concern. Which is why Shaun Dakin’s grief will continue to be profound.
What is it about guns that sometimes brings out the absolute worst, most debased forms of human behavior? On the one hand we have gun owners who decide to check into a hotel, take a room on the 32nd floor, and then fire hundreds of rounds into a concert-going crowd to see how many people they can kill. On the other hand, when the word gets around on social media that someone voluntarily got rid of his guns because of what happened in Vegas on October 1st, that individual is subject to a barrage of the most vile, disgusting and stupid online attacks that could be imagined, up to and including threats on his life.
I’m not making this up. Last week a resident of Phoenix, Jonathan Pring, turned in a pistol and a rifle to the Phoenix PD and then made the mistake of putting up a post on Facebook in which he stuck a video of the guns being given to the cops along with a statement that he was taking this step because of the shooting at the Mandalay Bay. Within hours, he began receiving countless insults, profanities and even threats to his business and his life, with such comments as “someone needs to go shoot this idiot and make him wish he could have defended himself,” being not all that crazy compared to others he received. And this particular comment came from a self-described three-percenter who, of course, makes a point of telling everyone how patriotic she is on her own Facebook page.
What I find interesting about these online outbursts, and I am a target of such attacks all the time, is that such activity often reflects the degree to which much of the chatter on social media is nothing more than the attempt by childish minds (regardless of the age of the body in which this mind is contained) to outdo one another in terms of who can say something more offensive than what the previous post actually said. And frequently these unreconstructed idiots belong to social media groups which basically exist to allow all the members to engage in this one-upmanship behavior by identifying and targeting individuals who express a contrary point of view.
On the other hand, what really bothered me about the reaction to Pring’s principled and selfless decision to turn his guns in after the Las Vegas rampage was not the fact that his online video attracted some gun-rights crazies to crawl out from under their rocks. Much more disturbing was the fact that his actions were basically ignored by the gun violence prevention (GVP) community who should have been spreading the news of his decision as far and as wide as they could.
If I had a nickel for every time that some GVP advocate or influencer complains about the ‘power,’ of the NRA without mentioning the degree to which opposition to the NRA on social media is so tepid and weak. When some deputy sheriff from Podunk makes a statement about how he supports concealed-carry, the NRA shouts out the message from here to kingdom come. But here’s a guy who made a remarkable statement about the risk of legal gun ownership and the GVP responds to his message with a big yawn. Shouldn’t the Brady Campaign invite Jonathan Pring to come to DC and accept an award? Shouldn’t Gabby and Mark fly out to meet with him? God knows they go everywhere else.
If GVP is ever going to reverse the continued growth of support for gun ‘rights,’ even among people who don’t own guns, their activists must become much more aggressive about using social media to promote their point of view. The video posted by Jonathan Pring showing him giving his guns to the cops should have been the featured post on every GVP Facebook site. And that’s the way you reach out to a wider audience rather than continuing to talk only to folks who already agree with what you say.