What happened in Vegas: Shock and inertia, rinse and repeat

Reed Broschart, (center), hugs his girlfriend Aria James on the Las Vegas Strip in the aftermath of a mass shooting at a concert Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, in Las Vegas.

Reed Broschart, (center), hugs his girlfriend Aria James on the Las Vegas Strip in the aftermath of a mass shooting at a concert Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, in Las Vegas. The couple, both of Ventura, Calif., attended the concert. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo)

Before we numbly move on from The Worst Mass Shooting in American History — topping the previous Worst Mass Shooting in American History, to be topped sooner or later by the next Worst Mass Shooting in American History — let’s do the drill we know so well:

Quotes and videos from on-the-scene survivors.

Media kudos to heroes.

Biographies of the dead.

NRA silence.

Congressional nothingness.

Thoughts ‘n’ prayers.

Rinse ‘n’ repeat.

All done! After all, when tragedy strikes here in the accursed land of locked ‘n’ loaded, it’s deemed “too soon” to say anything else. Then, after all the deaths are tallied and the bodies are buried and we’ve moved on, it’s always “too late.”

Las Vegas is the current “news peg.” But as the novelist Alexander Chee points out, “when you try to write about guns in America, you can’t bother to use the news peg approach. Any peg you choose goes by too quickly, replaced by another. It isn’t a peg as much as something that is always there — a constant, always rising death toll — spokes in a wheel that never stops turning.”

This time, a 64-year-old white guy from a Nevada retirement community committed mass slaughter with mass weaponry — killing 59 (so far), injuring 527, a new American record — in a terrorist act greased by a lenient gun-loving state that makes the NRA proud. No permits required to buy a rifle or handgun. No registration requirement. No licensing requirement. No need for a permit to carry the rifle. No ban on assault weapons. No limits on ammo magazine capacity.

One of the performers at the blood-soaked country music festival said that what happened in Vegas was “unimaginable.” Sorry, pal. I think the most accurate word is “inevitable.” No legal restrictions on rifles, the white guy took 20 rifles to his hotel…it doesn’t take a genius to connect the dots.

But we’ve lost the mental and moral capacity to prevent these massacres. The Republican congressional majority (and some in the Democratic minority) quake in perpetual fear that the arms merchants will unleash their wrath on anyone who steps out of line. Richard Painter, who served as ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush White House, said it well five years ago, after the mass shootings at the Sandy Hook elementary school:

“The message to Republicans is clear: ‘We will help you get elected and protect your seat from Democrats. We will spend millions on ads that make your opponent look worse than the average holdup man robbing a liquor store. In return, we expect you to oppose any laws that regulate guns. These include laws requiring handgun registration, meaningful background checks on purchasers, limiting the right to carry concealed weapons, limiting access to semiautomatic weapons or anything else that would diminish the firepower available to anybody who wants it. And if you don’t comply, we will load our weapons and direct everything in our arsenal at you in the next Republican primary.'”

A nation armed to the teeth has essentially decided that the mass loss of innocent people is an acceptable tradeoff for Freedom. The innocents’ freedom to live is deemed less important.

You’ve surely heard all this before — and not just from liberals. Earlier this year, conservative commentator David Frum, the former Bush speechwriter, threw up his hands:

“Like ancient villagers, Americans accept periodic plagues as a visitation from the gods, about which nothing can or should be done. The only permitted response is ‘thoughts and prayers’ — certainly never rational action to reduce casualties in future. Even to open the discussion as to whether something might not be done violates the taboos of decency: How dare you politicize this completely unpredictable and uncontrollable event! It is as if gun violence were inscrutable to the mind of man, utterly beyond human control.”

All we get, in lieu of substance, are worthless words from the gun lobby’s hapless stooges. Yesterday morning, Trump tweeted his “warmest condolences” to the dead victims’ families. Senator Marco Rubio said he was “praying.” Senator Orrin Hatch said “God bless the victims.” Senator Pat Roberts said “God bless the victims.” Senator Richard Shelby is “praying for the victims.” All four of those lawmakers voted against a ’13 bill that would’ve outlawed assault weapons.

Yeah, I know, that specific bill probably wouldn’t have stopped our latest shooter. My point is broader. Our elected leaders, hostages to our frontier mentality, have devoted decades to doing nothing; all they have to offer are Hallmark card platitudes. The ever-lengthening trail of blood long abetted by political inertia leads directly to Vegas — and beyond.

We don’t need ISIS to destroy ourselves. Reed Galen, a clear-eyed Republican strategist, says that our sick worship of mass weaponry has already changed the way we think: “Parents have to wonder if their kids are safe at school. Is their teenager safe on campus? Can they go to the birthday party at work? Is it safe to go to the movies? Is it safe to go out for a few drinks on a Saturday night? Can they take their wife to an outdoor concert and come home safely? These are questions we rarely ever had to ask ourselves…But too many mass shootings later, there is no segment of society, no demographic, no geography, no political bent that is safe from the AR-15 or the AK-47 on American soil. That is a disgrace. What’s worse than that?”

The only thing worse is doing nothing. That’s the drill: acting shocked, doing nothing. I can’t precisely pinpoint when America fully surrendered to benumbed insanity, but I’ll put my money on Sandy Hook. Once we decided that even the slaughter of little suburban kids was acceptable collateral damage, we crossed the line and sold our souls. Barring a great awakening, there is no going back.

——-

Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.