The last casino on the Vegas Strip, before Las Vegas Boulevard becomes the highway to Los Angeles, is Mandalay Bay and the Luxor with its burnished glass pyramid and the plaster sphinx. Facing the Egypt-themed hotel is where the sniper chose to execute his massacre.
The first police bulletins came in shortly after midnight, local time, and continued into the night. The death toll rose until it became “the worst mass shooting in the modern history of the United States.” That dismal record surpasses the previous one set just last June, when 49 people were killed in a gay nightclub in Orlando.
The trickle of mournful statistics underscores how mass shootings occur with chilling regularity in America and resurfaces that exasperating question: What’s causing this homegrown social psychopathy? In the phenomenon of mass murder, whose catalog is augmented each year by more gloomy statistics, innocent victims are killed in schools, public squares, means of transit and churches.
The absurd taxonomy of deadly mass violence usually points to the nihilism of a “lone wolf,” who, armed to the teeth, fires methodically at the defenseless multitude. That classification includes the “simple” multiple homicides and mass killings that unfold in predictable ways: One of the first modern massacres took place five decades ago, when an ex-Marine took a position in the belfry of a tower on the University of Texas campus, shooting down onto passersby and killing 15. The same dynamic as Sunday.
In every event, the perpetrator (always male) has offered no previous expression of their intentions. Another canonical element of the American massacre is the day-after interviews with friends and neighbors who express their amazement and stress how normal the killer was.
Stephen Paddock, 64, was also the typical “quiet man.” But in the epilogue of this tragedy on the Vegas Strip, there’s something more: Paddock’s father, Benjamin, was a serial bank robber, sentenced to 20 years. He’s now on the FBI’s most-wanted list following his escape from the penitentiary.
And there’s a hint of The Truman Show: Paddock retired to private life after a career as an accountant with Lockheed Martin. He was living in Mesquite, Nevada, near the Arizona border.
It’s a retirement community like the thousands of others scattered across the barren hinterland of the American Southwest. These “planned communities” for underprivileged retirees are built of prefabricated and air-conditioned bunks surrounded by surreal green, deserted wild flower beds, two-car garage and golf course access.
Paddock’s killing spree therefore apparently falls under the category of your typical suburban massacre. As the Las Vegas sheriff noted, he had no “terrorist matrices” (read: he was not Muslim), a distinction of questionable interest for the victims and their families but of great importance to some, including the current U.S. president.
For Trump, who has built his ascent on “radical Islamic terrorism” and the ritual use of the phrase as leverage against his “do-gooder” opponents, the distinction is crucial. His briefing Monday morning was terse and far from his usual belligerence following even distant Islamic attacks (in London or Nice) when he raged about the clash of civilizations. On Las Vegas, he was subdued and invoked the tone of a preacher: solidarity with the victims, praise for law enforcement and a mention of “pure evil.”
Many other politicians are mourning, to avoid specific comments, but it is certain that the National Rifle Association’s press offices are already working to anticipate every possible appeal to limit the tide of firearms that has flooded the country, which holds the world record for violence.
In addition to being a highly effective lobby for the weapons industry, the NRA is a shadow political party aligned with Trumpist positions (such as the controversy against athletes: The official website currently declares “we stand” for the flag).
In eight years, Barack Obama was repeatedly called to express post-massacre condolences. The climax was the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The slaughter of children prompted Obama and Congress to try to pass slightly stricter rules. It had no effect. For many, this was a confirmation that nothing will ever change, especially not with the current government.
In this country, where in 2017 alone there have been 11,572 gun deaths (10 percent at the hands of police), there remains a single argument, the NRA slogan summarized by Michael Moore in Bowling for Columbine: “It’s not guns that kill people. People kill people.”
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