The mass shooting in Las Vegas may not be officially called terrorism, but it is no less terrible because the person carrying it out seemingly did not have a political or ideological agenda.
The gunman responsible for the worst such atrocity in modern America history appears to have been a person for whom there was little or nothing official that would make him a candidate for mass murder. By every indication two things stood out in his life: gambling and guns. Craig Paddock, 64, a retiree from Nevada, spent much of his time gambling and collecting weapons.
How or why he was pushed to use those weapons on innocent people at a concert Sunday night will be debated and debated. But it seems that finding definitive answers may be difficult. As plausible as any theory is that he was somehow using the attack as a way to punish Las Vegas when he killed 59 people and wounded more than 500 with automatic weapons fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay casino hotel. He killed himself when police closed in on him.
The debate will not stop with the “whys.”
Already the latest mass killing in the United States has the political debate over gun control back in high gear. Hillary Clinton quickly weighed in about how much worse things might have been had gun advocates been successful in legalizing silencers for weapons. And gun proponents quickly pointed out that at least two of the 16 weapons Paddock had in the hotel room were modified to be fully automatic – which is already illegal.
As America grieves over the Las Vegas killings and the amount of gun violence in the country, a familiar pattern surfaces.
As CNN reports, in the wake of mass shootings, support for stricter gun laws spikes temporarily. But the shift in public opinion largely fades over time.
In a CNN poll in June 2016, shortly after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Miami, 55 percent said they favored stricter gun-control laws while 42 percent were opposed. That was up from 46 percent who felt that way in fall 2015 and the highest share to say so since January 2013, about a month after the Sandy Hook shootings in Connecticut.
The same poll found 54 percent in favor of a ban on the manufacture, sale and possession of semi-automatic assault rifles and 54 percent behind a ban on sale and possession of high-capacity magazines.
CNN cites the most recent public polling on the topic from Quinnipiac University in June, just after the shooting at a congressional baseball team's practice in Maryland. That poll found 57 percent of registered voters felt it was too easy to buy a gun, 6 percent said it was too difficult and 32 percent said it's about right. The poll also found that 57 percent felt the United States would be less safe if more people carried guns and 35 percent thought the country would be safer.
For opinion outside the scope of reaction to incidents such as Las Vegas, CNN cites the most recent in-depth public polling on gun control from the Pew Research Center via two surveys conducted this spring.
Among the highlights from that poll and others conducted in recent years:
• 83 percent said they consider gun violence in the United States a big problem -- including 50 percent who called it "a very big problem."
• 47 percent said they consider the right to own a gun essential to their sense of freedom .
• Almost half, 47 percent, said there would be fewer mass shootings if it were harder for people to legally obtain guns in the United States, while 39 percent said that wouldn't make a difference and 13 percent said it would lead to more mass shootings.
One example of how difficult it is to build public support for stricter gun laws came last year in none other than Nevada, CNN reports. A ballot measure to expand gun background checks was approved -- but barely, winning 50.4 percent support to 49.6 percent opposition out of more than 1.1 million votes cast. That vote came despite Pew finding 65 percent of Americans support background checks for private gun sales and at gun shows.
As pointed out in a column on this page today, most weapons in the hands of criminals are not purchased legitimately – a fact that makes the debate over gun control one that is nearly irreconcilable in a United States where legal possession of weapons is a part of the national fabric.
Do we severely limit guns and gun ownership in an effort to limit the supply of weapons that can flow illegally to dangerous people? In the end, the medicine is unlikely to cure the disease.
But that does not mean there is no room for action or change.
Opinion polls are not sufficient reason to act, but the Pew findings that 68 percent of people favor a ban on assault-style weapons and 64 percent favor banning high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds reflect legitimate concerns – before and after the Las Vegas massacre.