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Las Vegas-Style Shootings Are Impossible To Prevent

A day after the Las Vegas massacre, pundits and political activists are out in force. Gun control activists are pushing their agenda while others are arguing for a hidden conspiracy. The one thing that most people have missed about the shooting is how easy it was to carry out and how difficult it would be to prevent similar attacks.

Stephen Paddock presents a problem for both sides of the gun debate. He purchased his guns legally in spite of waiting periods and background checks, but even stricter gun laws won’t prevent killers from getting weapons. Guns, both legal and illegal, are plentiful in the United States and relatively easy to obtain. Stephen Paddock had no criminal record and there was no reason to prevent him from legally purchasing a gun. The same cannot be said of the gangbangers of Chicago who, despite criminal records, also seem to have no trouble finding guns.

Paddock avoided security by avoiding the concert venue which likely had metal detectors and building a sniper’s nest in his hotel room at the Mandalay Bay casino across the street. Paddock likely smuggled his arsenal into the building in suitcases or golf bags. A frequent traveler myself, I have never seen a single hotel with metal detectors or luggage screening of any sort. Why would they? It isn’t illegal to have a legally owned gun in your hotel room (subject to state and local laws).

From the right, the traditional answer of more guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens with concealed carry permits would not have made a difference in Las Vegas. Paddock was shooting with a high-powered rifle from across the street on the 32nd floor of a high-rise hotel. Pistols in the hands of concert-goers would have been useless.

From the left, no gun control laws under consideration would have prevented the massacre. Paddock passed background checks because he had no criminal record or history of mental illness. His large arsenal was accumulated over months or years at stores in several different states so waiting periods would not have made a difference. Gun-free zones just move the violence to other areas.

In fact, no law other than a total ban of guns in private hands would have prevented the shooting. The number of illegal guns used in crimes indicates that even a ban would not go far enough. Since thousands of guns that are already in private hands, confiscation would be required to prevent those guns from falling into the wrong hands. Such a policy is not only unconstitutional, it is politically impossible and unworkable from a practical standpoint, requiring the diversion of thousands of law enforcement officers from their current duties to tracking down and seizing guns from law-abiding citizens.

A total gun ban would not even necessarily have prevented Paddock from killing scores of people. In 2016, a man driving a stolen truck killed 85 people in Nice, France. In 1995, Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people in Oklahoma City with a truck bomb.

Lone gunmen with no prior criminal history are notoriously difficult to defend against. I was working in the northern Virginia area in 2002 as the DC Sniper murders were taking place. The sniper, John Muhammad concealed himself in the trunk of Chevrolet Caprice and eventually killed 17 people and wounded 10. The entire Washington area was petrified. People were afraid to go outside for even long enough to pump gas.

Afterward, I thought that the strategy would be an easy one for Islamic terrorists or others to adopt. If Al Qaeda or Islamic State sent a few hundred followers across the country with locally purchased guns to shoot up shopping malls, concerts, movie theaters, parks and restaurants at random, the United States would be paralyzed in short order. Such attacks are impossible to prevent in a free society. The killer will ultimately be killed himself, but if suicide or martyrdom is the shooter’s ultimate goal, death is not a deterrent.

New laws and rules could make it more difficult for the Stephen Paddocks of the world to go on murderous rampages. The question is how many rights we are willing to surrender and how many inconveniences we are willing to endure. Do we, as a nation, want to scrap the Second Amendment and undergo TSA screenings every time we check into a hotel? For most of us, the answer is no.

The fundamental problem with mass killings is the existence of evil and the depravity of the human heart. Evil cannot be legislated out of existence no matter how hard we try. We just have to deal with the evil-doers as best we can.

About the author

David Thornton

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