Generosity in Las Vegas, inaction in Congress

Like so many others, I’m beyond frustrated with the “thoughts and prayers” of politicians after every mass shooting, offered once again following the horrific mass murder Sunday night at a Las Vegas country music concert. President Trump weirdly offered his “warmest condolences” via Twitter before his handlers could get a grip on his tweeting thumbs, shoving a teleprompter speech at him with more appropriate and somber language, although much of it was along the usual predictable lines, “We pray for the day when evil is banished and the innocent are safe from … fear.”

As is too often the case, the shooter had an arsenal of weapons at his side, on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. There is essentially no gun control in Nevada, no limits on how many you can buy or the size of the magazines. You can openly carry a rifle or shotgun. You can even possess, purchase or sell a machine gun or silencer. And before the gun fanatics start with the “guns don’t kill people, people do” nonsense—it’s worth restating that one man, aided by his 19 guns, killed 59 people and shot 500 more in just a few minutes (these figures are as of press time). This is not the Second Amendment in action. This is mass murder by firearms.

By all accounts, sheriff’s deputies and first responders performed their extremely dangerous jobs with considerable bravery and competence, quickly deducing where the shooter was and taking calm, methodical action to stop him. The video from the scene is heartbreaking to watch, as 22,000 people run for their lives while the bullets rain down upon them.

The Las Vegas community responded quickly and generously to the tragedy. Hundreds of people stood patiently in line for hours to give blood while others posted their availability to provide rides to the hospital or shelter for family members. Donations poured in to help the victims and volunteers. State politicians offered support to the community and, of course, their thoughts and prayers.

But it’s action we need, instead of more thoughts and prayers. No other country in the world endures the endless mass shootings caused by our gun worship. U.S. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut tweeted “Congress needs to get off its ass” adding, “To my colleagues: your cowardice to act cannot be whitewashed by thoughts and prayers. None of this ends unless we do something to stop it.”

There is plenty that can be done. As columnist Nicholas Kristof pointed out in the New York Times, “When Australia suffered a mass shooting in 1996, the country united behind tougher laws on firearms. As a result, the gun homicide rate was almost halved and the gun suicide rate dropped by half, according to the Journal of Public Health Policy.”

Sadly, that’s not likely to happen here, because the National Rifle Association maintains its tight grip on bought-and-paid-for politicians who are in such denial that federal funding for gun violence research is outlawed, even for how to make guns safer for gun owners. We are so gun-obsessed in the United States that with 4.4 percent of the world’s population, we have almost half of the civilian-owned guns in the world. In Nevada, we haven’t been able to implement a streamlined universal background check system approved by voters, thanks to a technicality our Attorney General Adam Laxalt is hell-bent on using.

The House of Representatives is about to debate the silencer provision of the SHARE Act to repeal restrictions on gun silencers. Imagine how a silencer would have increased the casualties in Las Vegas, making it harder for victims and police to identify the source of the gunshots.

Our elected officials must confront the NRA and protect us. It’s going to take more than prayer to end the violence.