On the evening of 01 October 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada, at least 59 people attending a packed open-air music festival were killed and over five hundred were injured, when 64-year-old retired accountant Stephen Paddock opened fire at the crowd from his room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. The death toll is expected to rise.
This act of domestic terrorism is the deadliest mass shooting in the history of America, a country infamous for lax gun regulations and the frequency of such events.
Paddock had used a hammer to break hotel room windows to clear his line of fire. The Route 91 Harvest Festival is located across the South Las Vegas Boulevard from the Mandalay Bay compound; the festival has been held there annually for the past four years. Witnesses and survivors reported sustained gunfire raining down on the crowd. Experts believe that Paddock used an accessory that modifies a semi-automatic weapon to fire at an automatic rate.
Police found Paddock dead, by self-inflicted gunshot wound, in his hotel room—which was located after a systematic search by hotel security and local police that came to a head when gunfire set off the smoke alarm. Police found twenty-three weapons in his room alone, some rifles, along with scopes, and a cache of ammunition; authorities found in total an arsenal of 42 firearms, explosives, and thousands of rounds of ammunition, including those in his home.
RELATED READING: Initial reports of the incident bring to mind the Resorts World Manila attack, which happened earlier this year on local soil, when a lone gunman shot at guests and set fire to his hotel room. Security practitioner and field expert Ace Esmeralda has written up procedural suggestions and recommendations for his colleagues in the field, in light of the Resorts World tragedy.
The tragedy has also cast Nevada’s—and the rest of the country’s—lackadaisical gun regulations into stark relief. Stephen Paddock lived in an environment perfect for firearms enthusiasts, whose gun laws are the least restrictive. The right to bear arms is in the first article of Nevada’s constitution. One does not need a permit to buy a gun in Nevada, nor are you required to get a license or register your firearm. There is no limit on the number of guns a person can buy at one time. Carrying an unconcealed firearm in public is legal, though a permit is needed for concealed handguns. Owning assault weapons is legal. Though guns cannot be brought into a school, you can bring a gun to a polling place, a casino, and a bar.
Though private sellers and licensed gun dealers are required by state laws to conduct criminal background checks, the former provision was never fully enforced, by decree of the state’s Republican attorney-general. A store that sold Paddock several guns insisted that they ran a background check on him; but, as the shooter had no previous criminal record, he was allowed his purchase. (In Paddock’s home town of Mesquite, new guns could be bought at chain supermarkets, and secondhand guns can be bought at pawn shops.)
US President Donald Trump has been reluctant to call the worst mass shooting in American history an act of domestic terrorism, though he speculated on Paddock’s mental health. Before Trump boarded a flight for a visit to typhoon-ravaged Puerto Rico, he told reporters present, “We’ll be talking about gun laws as time goes by… We’ll deal with that later.”
The FBI has found no links between Paddock and any terrorist organizations though ISIS was quick to claim responsibility, as it does. Officials have found no motive for the attacks.