TSC IntelBrief: The Lessons Not Learned From Las Vegas
October 9, 2017

The Lessons Not Learned From Las Vegas


Bottom Line Up Front

• The facts surrounding the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history remain limited to what happened, while the gunman’s motives are still a mystery.

• The so-called Islamic State continues to claim, without evidence, that the gunman acted in its name.

• The gunman’s portrayal in the press is consistent with an investigative focus on white male attackers representing social anomalies rather than larger trends. 

• As with the aftermath of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, lessons learned from this tragedy are unlikely to lead to a dedicated national effort to prevent the next one.


A week after the latest worst mass shooting in modern American history, officials continue to investigate why gunman Stephen Paddock murdered 58 people at a country music concert in Las Vegas, while injuring hundreds more. While we’ve learned basic facts about the circumstances surrounding the crime and Paddock’s life prior to the massacre, they don’t seem to provide any of the obvious-in-hindsight clues that have become a hallmark of criminal investigations of modern mass murders and terrorist attacks. Much remains unknown about Paddock’s motivations and larger intentions.

In a sad commentary on current trends, investigators appear to know far more about the guns Paddock fired October 1 than the man who shot them. Paddock used a mix of semi-automatic rifles, including the very popular AR-15, during the attack from his 32nd floor room at the Mandalay Bay Resort, above the concert. He modified twelve of those weapons with a so-called ‘bump stock’, which uses the weapon’s gas-fired recoil to mimic an impossibly fast human trigger finger—essentially turning a semi-automatic into a fully automatic rifle. Paddock had more than two dozen rifles with him in the room, likely for backup as the barrels of the guns he fired would have overheated rather quickly on full automatic. The ‘bump stocks’ are such obvious attempts to get around federal laws limiting automatic weapons that the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its supporters in Congress have suggested new ‘bump stock’ regulations—not legal bans—may be in order. 

As yet, there remains nearly no public information on the motives for the attack. Some recent mass shootings, such as the 2015 Charleston church shootings that left nine dead, were clearly domestic and racial terrorism; in that case, gunman Dylan Roof left a victim alive precisely to tell officials the racist motives for his murders. Despite an ongoing U.S. struggle on whether mass attacks such as the Las Vegas shooting should be labeled ‘terrorism’, there’s insufficient knowledge of Paddock’s motives to do that now.  

The so-called Islamic State continues to claim that Paddock acted in its name. The terrorist group has made similar claims after past attacks, often when there’s been some evidence of an attacker’s affinity with or support for its goals. However, law enforcement officials continue to say that they have found no information leading them to believe Paddock was acting for the Islamic State; his girlfriend, who has been interviewed by the FBI, also reportedly provided little information as to his motives. The stark difference in how the gunman has been portrayed by the press—as a loner, music lover and gambler—is also both very different from other suspects in possible Islamic-State inspired attacks and consistent with an investigative focus on white male attackers as representing social anomalies rather than larger trends. 

As with the aftermath of the 2012 mass murder of 20 young children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the national reaction to Las Vegas has transitioned from immediate horror to efforts to frame narratives and establish blame. From natural disasters to all-too-frequent mass murders, there appear at present to be no events tragic enough to unite the United States even momentarily; Las Vegas is no exception. While many have cried out, there will likely be no thoughtful, legislative response to the murder of 58 people and shooting of hundreds more.  It appears the United States has decided as a matter policy and a matter of course there is nothing to learn from this and previous mass shootings, which happen on a regular basis in the U.S. as they do nowhere else in the world.


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