This time the shooter was a retired accountant. Not a bullied teenager, not a vengeful homophobe, nor an angry racist. This time, the shooter was a wealthy Caucasian 64-year-old senior citizen from an upscale retirement community north of Las Vegas. Why?
Some people blame television, a central feature of U.S. home life. With cable network channels, the capacity to bring carnage right into your living room is just one click away. Recent estimates reveal that children watch more than 8,000 murders on TV before they finish grade school. The Las Vegas shooter, however, grew up in the era of Howdy Doody and Mickey Mouse when the most violent TV shows were re-runs of “The Three Stooges.”
Is it violent video games? In 2012, the shooter in the Sandy Hook massacre moved through the grade school as methodically as a character in the video games he loved to play. In a June 2014 article, a CNN legal analyst argued that by age 18, the average gamer had “killed” as many as 100,000 virtual victims in popular video games. However, gaming is not always a factor in the formative years of mass murderers, given that the pinball machines were the only childhood “gaming” amusements for the Las Vegas shooter.
Is it unmanaged mental illness? In the shootings at the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater and Congressperson Gifford’s constituent meeting, both shooters were found to be mentally ill. Yet in those and other instances involving mentally ill shooters, they all obtained their guns legally.
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Is it because there aren’t enough “good guys” with guns? Gun rights activists say the best response to gun violence is more guns, giving the “good guys” more fire power than the “bad guys.” However, in this case, the Las Vegas shooter successfully passed the established checks and balances as one of the “good guys.”
Must we abandon our sense of safety when out in public? Must we give up concerts, dance bars, movie theaters? These once safe places of our daily lives now require escape plans. First aid training will now include “Stop the Bleed,” as part of a national campaign to deputize the public as first responders in mass shootings. Apparently, mass murder is the new norm.
What changed? The question of why recent mass shooters kill has many answers. In the aftermath of nearly each shooting, we often find clues about how killers are made, not born. This is important because if certain social environments make killers, changing those environments can un-make killers. We have an opportunity to address bullying in schools, to diagnose and treat mental illness, to change the public dialogue on racism and homophobia.
Each time, we had opportunities to stop these ticking time bombs, but we rarely limited their access to guns.
The over-arching answer to how these shootings happen is easy access to guns. Across the board, each mass shooter had access to guns. This shooter lived in Nevada, where no permit is needed to own hand guns or rifles, and where it is legal to openly carry assault rifles like the ones he used. The shooter had 23 guns set up to mow down nearly 600 people, killing nearly 60 of them.
The most urgent question in the wake of this most recent massacre is, what will we do? A Pew survey conducted in spring of this year found that 83 percent of U.S. adults said gun violence was a big problem, yet only 47 percent said that more restrictive gun laws would reduce mass shootings. Gun rights remains one of the most polarizing issues in U.S. politics. Yet we all join unanimously after each mass shooting in a nationwide period of mourning.
Part of the problem is our long history of condoning mass murder. The massacres of African Americans and Native Americans are often forgotten in the listing of mass murder. One horrific example was the 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma, slaughter of 250 African Americans by their less prosperous Caucasian neighbors who were angered by their success.
We know a lot about why mass shooters kill. We continue to learn how these shootings happen. The burning question is what will we do to restrict the easy access to guns that fuels mass shootings. A shake-down of retirement communities would be as useless as a crack-down on immigrant communities. It’s time to call for significant gun control.
Anna Schlecht is a board member of Senior Services for South Sound and a member of The Olympian’s 2017 Board of Contributors. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.