The loudest among us

In 1968, when television crews were setting up for coverage of another assassination and funeral, this one Robert Kennedy’s, just 62 days after Martin Luther King’s, a TV worker was heard to say something like, I think we’re getting too good at this.

There may have been some of that feeling in Las Vegas Sunday as the satellite trucks rolled in and crews went through the familiar routine of covering mass murder. There are routes that can be followed across the country—San Ysidro, Las Vegas, Aurora and Littleton, Omaha, Wilkes Barre, Newtown—or up the coast, if preferred—San Bernadino, San Francisco, Roseburg, Seattle. A southern route? Waddell, Fort Hood, Austin, Kinston, Jacksonville, Orlando. No one and no place is immune.

“The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown,” said Robert Kennedy, another victim. “They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one—no matter where he lives or what he does—can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.” That was 49 years ago.

A more recent victim, Gabrielle Giffords, said this week of her former congressional colleagues, “I know they got into politics for the same reason I did—to make a difference, to get things done. Now is the time to take positive action to keep America safer. Do not wait.”

Like many, when we heard the rapid fire of a semiautomatic or automatic weapon in Las Vegas, it angered us. These are not weapons used for deer or chukkar. This is one kind of weapon that could have been dealt with by Congress decades ago without interfering with sport shooting. There might still have been death tolls from Las Vegas and other communities, but they would have been smaller, and that is worth the effort. Controlling rapid fire weapons won’t halt mass murders, but it will mean fewer victims. Instead, Congress has listened to those who want to “make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire whatever weapons and ammunition they desire,” as Kennedy put it. Congress is not serving the nation by going along, it is serving a small, fanatical slice of our country.

In 1980, 85 people died in the Las Vegas MGM Grand Hotel fire, and sentiment was strong to require hotels to install sprinklers. Lobbyists went right to work and, by the time the 1981 Nevada Legislature went into session, they had stopped any chance of a sprinkler bill passing. Another fire broke out during that legislature, this one at the Las Vegas Hilton, killing five more. That got the bill through. Do legislators need another mass murder in Nevada?

In 1996, at the behest of the gun lobby, Congress made federal gun research illegal. That is the level of head-in-the-sand zealotry we are dealing with, of willfully remaining ignorant—and taking the rest of society along. Soon Congress will debate what, if anything, to do in the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act about gun silencers, devices that can delay knowledge that a mass murder is even under way, giving a perpetrator a few more seconds to increase the kill.

Such political madness holds us all hostage to the loudest among us.