It’s been just over eight weeks since Stephen Paddock hauled an arsenal of weapons to his suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas where he opened fire on an outdoor concert and killed 59 people while injuring more than 500. With the shock, grief, and disbelief, comes an overwhelming question: how do we stop this from happening again? It’s a question that’s been asked countless times after national tragedies like in Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and Orlando.
The question is so vexing because it requires us to learn from our mistakes and to forge a better way forward. Unfortunately, in an age of deep skepticism, fierce political division, and 24/7 media attention, the pursuit of the right solution is often muddled by our preferred answers and our entrenched talking points. More specifically, in the wake of a tragedy like the one in Las Vegas, the national attention quickly turns to gun-control laws in an effort to ensure that something like this never happens again, but this is a misguided approach that is short-sighted and lacks the nuance truly required to solve such a potent problem.
Nationally, violent crime has been on the decline for more than two decades. While the last two years have shown increases in the violent crime rate, The New York Times and others have concluded that this is primarily the result of significant spikes in violent crime in certain neighborhoods in specific cities including parts of Baltimore, Chicago, and Las Vegas. While the violent crime rate is rising slightly, this isn’t indicative of a less-safe America. Moreover, it’s challenging to draw comparisons between gun-laws and public safety because places like Chicago feature some of the most prolific gun-laws in the country but they also suffer from one of the worst crime rates in the nation.
It doesn’t take a particularly profound observer to notice that, without guns, there would be an absence of gun-related deaths. That’s the basis for comparisons between countries like the U.S. and Australia where residents are far less likely to be injured by a gun. According to CBS News, Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than people in other developed countries.” Therefore, the argument supposes, to eradicate the atrocities like the one we saw in Las Vegas, we must also eradicate guns. However, in addition to our right to own a firearm being enshrined in our constitution, that data doesn’t tell us everything that we need to know. As The Guardian reports, “enforcement and culture may also play important roles in preventing violence.” In short, the answer to gun violence is far more nuanced and far more involved than sweeping generalizations about fewer guns equaling less violent crime.
In many ways, the epidemic of mass shooters and our collective desire to prevent their destruction is a separate debate from the general conversation about anti-gun laws. As Congressman Jeff Duncan writes in Time Magazine “practically none of the then existing legislation made a difference in recent attacks.” Instead, turning our attention towards vigilance, reporting, and screening might be the best and most practical way forward. According to NPR, “Two recent studies provide evidence that background checks can significantly curb gun violence.” Background checks are a legal check on gun ownership. They ensure that only those who are mentally and legally fit to own a gun can legally purchase one.
More importantly, background checks are fortified by a vigilant populace that takes its reporting job seriously. On the New York Times’ popular podcast, The Daily, John Markell, a gun store owner, was interviewed by host Michael Barbaro. He explains that enough people aren’t reporting their concerns to the authorities to ensure that background checks are a safe and effective method for ensuring that weapons are purchased by people who can safely own and use a firearm. By reporting concerns, infractions, and altercations, we have the power to ensure that dangerous individuals will not have the opportunity to purchase weapons.
Tragedies like the one in Las Vegas drive us toward a desire for action and improvement - and they should. Action is required, but it’s often not what we expect. The liberal media demands sweeping changes to gun-laws, but, as always, the truth is more complex and more nuanced. However, we can begin right away by ensuring that we are adequately supporting state and federal background checks for all owners. Most importantly, we can engage in the process by reporting our concerns and giving our skilled and entrusted law enforcement officials the opportunity to do what they do best. It’s not a flashy solution, and it probably won’t make headlines on CNN, but real solutions rarely do. Nobody wants another Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Orlando, or Vegas - and more than we know, we already have the power to prevent that.