I hate Country music. It isn’t a blanket hatred; I enjoy some of the more progressive voices in Country (mostly from years past). Lucinda Williams and, more recently, Jamey Johnson come to mind as some of my favorites. But for the most part, not only do twanging guitars and drawling vocals about beer, trucks, and more beer not interest me, I actively dislike them. Often, when I am cut off by a 30-year-old GMC with nothing in the truck bed blasting Florida Georgia Line going down the highway, not only am I annoyed but I find myself thinking bad thoughts about the individual in question.
Then something like Las Vegas happens. And it changes everything.
Last night, hundreds of Americans were gathered for a Country music festival in downtown Las Vegas. The venue was outdoors next to the grand high-rise Mandalay hotel. No doubt the alcohol was flowing, the horrible Jason Aldean music was blaring, and regardless of whether I would’ve been enjoying myself had I been there, hundreds of others were having the night of their lives. That all came to a screeching halt when a man with more than 10 automatic rifles next to him began raining down bullets from his hotel room on the 23rd floor. In the span of four-and-a-half minutes (before the Vegas SWAT team managed to break into the shooter’s hotel room), at least 50 lives were lost and more than 400 were left injured, crying out, swearing, grieving over fallen loved ones, and plugging bullet holes with their free fingers to try in vain to staunch the bleeding. The biggest mass shooting in American history had just taken place.
When tragedies like these strike, the media is criticized for focusing on the shooters. “It brings them the glory that they seek,” critics say. “Instead, we should be focusing on the victims and their families.” There’s an argument to be made for that. But today, we need to examine the shooter in order to better understand how we can stop this and the 272 other mass shootings that have occurred in America this year alone from ever happening again.
We don’t know a whole lot about Stephen Paddock, but let me list off what we do know. He was 64 years old. He lived in a retirement community. He had a hunting license. He had a significant degree of wealth (compared to average Americans). He was white, had no criminal record, and according to his brother interviewed by ABC News this morning, he showed no outward signs that his mental faculties had been slipping. By all accounts, nobody saw this coming. How can you fight an outbreak you can’t see coming? By taking down the root of the problem.
No private American should be able to buy automatic weapons. Period. For too long, we as a country have been willing to look the other way when a tragedy like this occurs, even when the victims are young children as was the case a few years ago at Sandy Hook. But in most instances, the gun lobby, the politicians whose pockets are lined with their dirty cash made off of the deaths of thousands of American citizens each year, and millions of gullible Americans who are brainwashed enough by conservative media that yes we need to have automatic weapons open and available to carry wherever we choose have an out. A symptom to diagnose other than their own obsession with killing machines. But not on this day.
It’s possible that mental health treatment could have helped Stephen Paddock. Maybe if he’d been through therapy, a psychologist or counselor could’ve diagnosed an issue and helped him work through it. But if there was no way for anyone to recognize that he needed help, how can you expect them to have given it to him? Unless we’re ready to mentally screen every American in the country (which, quite obviously, would be impossible) the time has come to wake up and realize that the right to bear arms written up by rich white men with rifles that could shoot about as straight as a drunk on a tightrope does not override an American citizen’s right to life. And until we act on that, this will never stop. When is enough enough? When it happens to you?