Melina’s Memorandum

The Gun Control Debate in the Wake of the Route 91 Harvest Festival Shooting

Oct. 1, 2017 marked the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history at the Route 91 Harvest Festival concert in Las Vegas, Nev. Gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire on country concert-goers from a hotel room in the Mandalay Bay Resort, killing 58 and wounding 500.

This horrible tragedy has reinvigorated many people’s ardent desire for stricter gun regulations to prevent tragedies such as this shooting as well as other mass shootings, including the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Paddock brought 23 firearms into his hotel room and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. A dozen of these firearms had legally obtained “bump stocks,” which make the semi-automatic weapons act like automatic weapons and means they are able to fire more rapidly. Fully automatic weapons in the hands of the public are currently illegal in the U.S. without undergoing an extensive background check and being subject to extremely strict regulations.

How Paddock obtained the 23 weapons found in the hotel room and the 19 weapons recovered at his residence is still under investigation. However, investigations have proven that Paddock had purchased firearms legally in the past at retail stores and passed all background checks without raising any red flags.

Because of this, it is difficult to criticize or advocate gun control, as many of the details of how he obtained these weapons are still unknown to the public. The purchase of automatic weapons manufactured after 1986 in the U.S. is illegal. So, why wouldn’t the current and upcoming legislation on firearms discuss devices that allow a legal rifle to act in the same fashion as an illegal one? After all, the legislation is aimed at banning what the device can do, not just the device itself.

After the shooting, Congressional Democrats have taken strong stances on gun regulation and are looking to ban the use of these “bump stocks” that allow semi-automatic guns to act as automatic guns. They are attempting to tighten the loopholes in current laws that allow individuals to purchase these accessories.

However, Congressional Republicans have stated that they are open to new legislation but have not come out in support of a bill yet.

The backbone of the gun lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA), is not supporting an outright ban of the accessory and is taking a more flexible approach than it has in the past. The NRA has shocked many Americans, including me, with its willingness to participate in discussions of new regulations.

So while many are quick to jump on policy stances after events like this, reflecting on something as horrific as this shooting has been difficult for me because of my connections with the area. There were people from my hometown and from my youth club soccer team who attended the concert. They were first-hand witnesses to the devastation that Paddock caused. I could easily see myself being in their shoes as Las Vegas, Nev., is not a far drive from where I grew up in Southern California, and we visited the area often for concerts and soccer tournaments.

Because I have personal connections to this incident, I have been frustrated in a way I haven’t been before with the gun control debate. I understand both sides of the argument, but is it possible that both are wrong? At the very least, they appear to be wrong in each approach of the subject.

Contrary to media portrayal, both sides on the issue want to find a long-term solution for people who have been affected by these mass shootings and want to make sure that these incidents don’t happen for future generations. There are a few main components to the debate right now that we, as young adults, should be aware of.

Mental health is by far the most complicated portion of the argument and could be the largest component the mass media portrays in many of the recent domestic terror attacks. However, mental illness is associated with these mass shootings is problematic in itself because of how broad the term “mental illness” is. Furthermore, the effectiveness and implementation of programs that attempt to be proactive and detect potential mass shooters would be difficult to achieve and could not be 100 percent accurate.

The effectiveness of gun control itself is another major player. I don’t believe it would be prudent to say current gun control regulations could have prevented this incident. Even though his motive has not been uncovered or released by investigators, Stephen Paddock demonstrated mentally unstable traits, and he could have found a way to commit this atrocity regardless of legislation.

Current gun control regulations revolve around background checks. However, there clearly is a component going undetected that allows these kinds of individuals to purchase firearms without raising suspicion. It is reasonable to say that the kind of people who commit mass shootings are not suitable for gun ownership, and, while the background check is a good first step, it is not doing its job as far as keeping firearms out of the hands of people who wish to do harm.

What the U.S. Congress can do moving forward is legislation on “bump stocks.” These pieces of equipment are readily available to the public, so it would be reasonable to begin reform by addressing “bump stocks.” If the U.S. Congress has already made the conscious decision to make automatic weapons illegal, why would its members knowingly allow a loophole that aids in turning legally owned weapons into illegally owned automatic guns?

In the wake of a national tragedy during an already fractured time in the U.S. sociopolitical climate, it is vital that the U.S. moves forward to find a long-term solution. The U.S. needs to take a vastly different approach because current laws are insufficient in keeping people like Paddock away from firearms and accessories that have the capability to do so much harm. Comprehensive re-evaluation of how we treat firearms in this country is necessary beyond party lines.