On Sunday, October 1, 2017, at 10:08 PM PST, Stephen Paddock allegedly opened fire with automatic weapons into a crowd of about 40,000 people attending the Route 91 Harvest festival, listening to country music star Jason Aldean. 58 people were shot to death, and 516 were injured. The 59th death was the alleged shooter, who turned one of his guns on himself.
Automatic weapons fire continuously as long as the trigger is held down. Some automatic weapons, such as the Colt firearms M16A-2 can fire 12 to 15 rounds per second. Fully automatic weapons are frequently confused by the public with semi-automatic weapons which fire one round every time the trigger is pulled. Fully automatic weapons cannot be owned be civilians in the United States with the exception of duly licensed individuals. Semi-automatic weapons can be owned by civilians, generally without any special licensing. Paddock apparently illegally converted his semi-automatic weapons to full automatic to maximize rate and volume of fire, and produce as many casualties as possible.
A question many ponder in the aftermath of a mass shooting is the motive. The official motive has yet to be determined, or at least released to the public. In my opinion, what it comes down to is too simple: Paddock did what he did because he chose to. Details of his history are still emerging, but a man had to cross multiple psychological barriers to kill even one other humans being, let alone many. Psychologist and retired Army ranger Lt. Col. David Grossman, Ph.D., has stated that all members of a species, from humans to animals have an innate resistance to killing members of their own species. From an evolutionary perspective, intra-species homicide is not conducive to the long-term survival of the species. Mass shooters thus violate the most fundamental hard wiring and reach a point of white hot rage, combined with utter despair, desperation, and hopelessness. They may take years to reach this complete loss of perspective, as psychological barriers against harming others are gradually eroded. Eventually, any final internal restraints are shed, and they reach a point of no return the first time they pull the trigger.
The other question many will ask after events such as this is how to prevent it from happening again. At this time, there are no conclusive answers on how to accomplish this. Determining an individual’s future intent to commit violence cannot be easily and reliably predicted. Other solutions that are proposed are to ban firearms, or restrict their ownership. This overlooks a very basic reality: by definition criminals do not obey the law.
In the days ahead, we will likely learn more about the life history and motive of Paddock, and the heroic actions of many who saved lives at the scene. Mass shootings seem to have become a too often occurring event. There are currently no effective solutions to prevent a single deranged individual from engaging in such violence. However, keep perspective and realize that mass shootings are still a statistical rarity. Moreover, never forget the police officers, emergency medical personnel, and citizens who stepped up to protect and save others.