Editor’s note, we are refusing to use the name of the shooter. This is on purpose.
Analysis by Reporting San Diego
October 5, 2017 (San Diego) There are a few things that come from the mass shooting in Las Vegas. The first is that local police before any motive emerged, was quick to label the suspect as a “lone wolf.” We still have no motive. However, we know that there is now a search for a mental health history. We are sure that there is one. However, this fits a well-worn pattern. The shooter was white. The shooter was likely not from any known religious minority either. As usual, the authorities are going out of their way not to label this a terrorist act. however, this is a pattern that many have noted. When the shooter is white, authorities tend to be reluctant to use that term.
Under the current legal definition of terrorism, we need a political motive to fit. So far as we know, the assailant has no social media footprint. Given his age, this should not be too surprising. With some exceptions, older Americans are not that adept at using social media tools. Some do and have active contacts with family and friends. But this man was quiet.
The report from family and neighbors was that the assailant was a pretty normal person. Family members tend to be the last ones in these cases to notice. There are good reasons why somebody who’s relative committed any kind of crime will not want to see that side of their relative. And if somebody is planning a crime, they will keep to themselves. We live in an increasingly atomized society. Most people keep to themselves and generally speaking neighbors rarely speak with neighbors. So that should surprise no one.
That said, police have not ruled out the legal definition of terrorism. But we must ask, even if the police rules it out, can we call this act terrorism? We believe we can. People were terrified while being under fire. Ironically this single act will increase calls for gun laws.
Then we get into the weapons used. All of them were semi-automatic, according to the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF.) However, these weapons had a very legal modification that allowed a trained shooter to fire at a very high rate of fire. These were bump stocks. Meaning, the shooter had training, likely in the open desert. No record exists yet, of any commercial range. This betrays planning. So does the cameras, or sending his girlfriend away. Ergo, there was the clear intent.
All these weapons were legally obtained in several states, including California. All these states have different levels of what is legal in firearm attachments. It is important to understand that fully automatic weapons are not sold to the public in the United States. They were banned after the National Firearms Act of 1934 became law. However, people who still owned them could legally have them as they were grandfathered. Transferring these weapons, however, Involves a long process under federal law. It is not easy, and any legal transfer is long and laborious.
The National Rifle Association was one of the groups that lobbied Congress to pass that piece of legislation, after some impressive shootings between Federal authorities and the mafia, as well as some well-publicized murders. Back then the NRA was a very different organization, that was interested in the rights of hunters, and sportsmen. It was mostly men who hunted. The NRA saw the Tommy gun, the archetypical submachine gun of the era, as dangerous for the public.
In 1934 the M1-Garland, a semi-automatic rifle, had yet to enter military service. Semi-automatics were mostly limited to handguns. The Garand entered service in 1936, and after World War Two it was legal to buy for civilians, just as the AR-15, a semi-automatic version of the M-16, is legal to buy and own today. Some of the rifles used by the shooter were from the AR family. Nor with just banning bump-stocks be enough to slow this epidemic. The American people want more than just cosmetic workarounds. And as in other mass shootings, this will go up as well. For example, after Orlando, a majority wanted that ban.
This is why we need to have this national conversation. Today is not unlike 1934 when a trained shooter with a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) or a Tommy could do a lot of damage as well. Both were weapons of war. American Society was horrified by the massacres, such as the St. Valentine Day Massacre of 1929, and the FBI was outgunned regularly. Granted, the BAR would be, in some ways, the equivalent of the AR family weapons in Vegas, due to it being a long gun.
We had this same conversation in the late 1920s and 1930s. We as a society decided that military grade weapons like the BAR and the Tommy did not belong in civilian hands. You could no longer thumb through your Sears catalog and order a Tommy through the mail. The modern equivalent would be ordering a fully automatic M-16A on Amazon. Nor could you go to any store and buy it off the shelf either.
Semiautomatic weapons were not included in that federal ban since they were rare. Most people owned single and double action revolvers, not the still rare 1911 Colt .45. Most of those were in military service. Nor were police or federal agents issued with semi-automatic side arms. This would not happen until the 1970s and 1980s when these weapons became more common in civilian use. For example, Los Angeles PD authorized their officers to move from the venerable .38 special to semiautomatics in 1986. Simply put, in 1934 these weapons were not an issue. So we can forgive those long ago lawmakers who wrote the legislation to skip over the kind of weapons that have been used in recent years. While the AR-15 family emerged in the 1950s and 60s, it has become common among gun enthusiasts.
Most enthusiasts, like those who ordered Tommy Guns in the 1920s, will never use their weapons in anger. However, we have had a series of mass shootings that show some will. With bump-stocks and training, the rate of fire achieved is extremely close to fully automatic fire. For all intents and purposes, in Las Vegas, we had automatic fire. This comes from police communications.
After every major shooting Americans want Congress to act, and then interest fades. We do not mean something like the 1994 assault weapons ban. That ban was mostly cosmetic and did not deal with the internal workings of the weapon. No, forbidding bayonet lugs does not change how the weapon works. We need to talk about a similar bill to what was passed in 1934. If the NRA wants to redeem itself, it needs to lobby Congress like it did in 1934. They need to go back to their roots and advocate for hunters. Incidentally, Olympic shooters do not use AR style weapons. Hunters do not need even 10 rounds of ammunition to bring down a deer. If they do, they have other issues. Nor is an AR style weapon, or any other semi-automatic, necessary in the ranch.
Home defense is best done with other weapons. Shotguns come to mind.
For similar constitutional reasons as what happened in 1934, current owners will likely have to be grandfathered, but any transfer needs the same kind of federal oversight. We have more guns than people in the United States, of all types in circulation. It will take time for that number to go down. Moreover, like Australia, we might want to consider a major buyback, at current market values to remove weapons from circulation.
A caveat. Usually, weapon buybacks include the destruction of all weapons bought back. Museum quality samples, for example, a civil war era Henry or a Winchester near mint condition from the 1890s, that could be rare, must be preserved, but made inoperable, due to their historical significance.