Charles Laffiteau's Bigger Picture
2017-10-15 07:15:12 -

On 1 October, the same day my previous column was published, the worst mass shooting in modern American history was perpetrated in Las Vegas. While Daesh was quick to claim responsibility, the fact is that Stephen Paddock’s murderous attack was not a politically or religiously inspired act of terrorism.


It was the worst since the Orlando nightclub shooting on 12 June 2016, in which 49 were killed and 58 wounded. Before Orlando, there was the mass killing on 14 December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Using guns that belonged to his mother, Adam Lanza killed 20 schoolchildren, his mother and six other adults, and wounded another two, firing 156 shots in the span of just five minutes before turning his pistol on himself. Lanza was mentally ill and had no apparent political or religiously inspired motivation for his gruesome attack. Furthermore, this was also one of the few recent mass killings in America that Daesh or al-Qaeda did not try to take credit for.


Before that was the mass shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech on 16 April 2007. The death toll that day was 32, with 23 injured, and at the time it was the single deadliest massacre by a lone killer in American history. The perpetrator, Seung-Hui Cho, was a student at Virginia Tech who, like Lanza, also had a history of mental health issues dating back to his high school days. His motivation was also not political or religious in nature, but rather based on a desire for revenge for perceived slights.


But all of these pale in comparison to the bloodbath Stephen Paddock carried out on the grounds of Las Vegas Village, a 15-acre open field on the Las Vegas Strip used for outdoor concerts. In the span of just over nine minutes, Paddock fired well over 2,000 rounds of ammunition into a crowd of 22,000 concert goers, killing 58 and injuring another 527.


Because the possession of fully automatic weapons made after 19 May 1986 is illegal here in America, the only way someone can make a semi-automatic rifle fire that fast is by using a device called a ‘bump stock’. The stock is the part of a rifle, usually made of wood, that a shooter holds against their shoulder in order to absorb the kickback after the weapon discharges. The bump stock replaces the standard rifle stock with one that allows the rifle to use the energy from the gun’s kickback to fire like a machine gun, by rapidly bumping the stock back and forth between the trigger finger and shoulder.


The primary reason why Paddock was able to kill and wound so many was because he had modified 12 of the 23 rifles that were found in his Mandalay Bay Hotel suite with bump stocks.


For the past 40 years the National Rifle Association’s position on any state or federal proposal to regulate the sale or possession of any type of gun is that these laws are a threat to the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. Because the NRA is also a powerful political force in many states, most Republicans as well as some Democrats are afraid to propose any type of firearm laws that the NRA might oppose. As a result, even the most innocuous Congressional attempts to regulate the sale of guns have always failed.


Until recently, the NRA’s response to mass shootings has been that the only way to stop bad people with guns is for good people to use their own guns to stop them. So what I find most surprising about their response to the Las Vegas massacre is their apparent willingness to discuss outlawing the use of accessories like bump stocks that transform deadly semi-automatic weapons into even more deadly automatic weapons.


While I will applaud any and all attempts by Republican and Democratic lawmakers to close the loopholes in our federal and state laws that allowed bump stocks to be manufactured and sold, much more needs to be done. That is because the root of the problem isn’t the deadliness of the weapons being used – it is the relative ease with which one can acquire them. Paddock purchased 33 of his 47 weapons in one year between October 2016 and September 2017.


The problem isn’t the legality of bump stocks or automatic weapons. The problem is the ease with which these killers obtained their weapons of mass destruction.


Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas pursuing a career in public service. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011 and pursued a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy.

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