The first reports about the horrific attack in Las Vegas on Sunday night will surely evolve into more detailed knowledge. But there are three lessons we might draw from the information already available. First, automatic rifles like the one the shooter apparently used have the potential to kill large numbers of people, particularly when aimed at a crowd in a confined space. Second, a shooter positioned in a high-rise building hundreds of meters away can render moot many of the security measures now used to protect crowds. And third, despite what gun advocates tend to say in response to shootings, it’s incredibly unlikely that any armed bystander could have made a difference, given the distance, elevation, and darkness that separated this shooter from his victims. These three facts made the Las Vegas shooting a nightmare scenariofor police agencies, and for the rest of us too.
Based on what we know now, shooter Stephen Paddock was a 64-year-old man who lived a relatively obscure and unremarkable life before his awful final act. He was, according to Las Vegas police, both a “solo actor” and a “lone wolf.” Paddock had no apparent ties to domestic or foreign terrorist organizations, nor had he made his murderous intentions apparent to others before Sunday. Perhaps that helped him acquire his arsenal and plan his attack. Although automatic weapons like those he apparently used are illegal, it would have been perfectly legal for a person like Paddock—a nonfelon who likely didn’t show up on any government watch lists—to acquire semi-automatic weapons and ammunition that could have been almost as deadly.
Read the full op-ed in Slate.