I was in Las Vegas for a conference last week. Yes, business as usual. That’s what we do in America these days.
As our plane touched down at McCarran International Airport, I looked out my window to the Mandalay Bay Hotel. Three weeks ago a gunman opened fire from his room there on a crowd enjoying a country music concert across the street. Fifty-eight people were killed and 546 injured in one of the most horrific mass killings in U.S. history. We are still searching for the killer’s motivation, but may never find an answer. Perhaps, there is none; perhaps, the answer is the same as the one given by the mass murderer in Springsteen’s song Nebraska, “Well sir, I guess there’s just a meanness in this world.”
On a break between meetings, I walked down the Strip to the site of the shooting. It was something I needed to do, to pay my respects. Around me, everything was seemingly as it should be in Vegas. Bachelorette parties passed by in limousines; a tour group from Japan followed a guide’s flag into a casino; a group of frat boys paraded around toting barbell shaped plastic glasses filled with daiquiris; and a retired couple from the Midwest discussed their plans to see a show that evening. All felt normal, but it shouldn’t.
At the entrance to the Mandalay, there are two small memorials to those killed in the shooting. They are the type of spontaneous remembrances containing flowers and notes from family, friends, and others that are becoming too commonplace in our country. Overhead temporary plywood panels were being removed from the shooter’s room and replaced with glass. Already the tragedy is receding from our collective consciousness. It’s as if the volume and velocity of information in our lives is keeping us in a perpetual state of distraction. Release of the Kennedy assassination documents. Squirrel! The border wall. Squirrel! Did Tillerson call Trump a moron? Squirrel! I’m not saying that these aren’t important news events, but their sheer quantity creates an environment where we rarely take the time to seek solutions. After all, in a 140 character world, there is little time for deep thinking. And so we move on.
There now hangs from the Mandalay Bay Hotel a large banner proclaiming #VegasStrong. While well intended, it has become the latest form of in memoriam marketing, the corporate equivalent of when politicians say “thoughts and prayers.” In a matter of days after the event, it was already visible on billboards, t-shirts and beer koozies. But the truth is, it’s the NRA, and the firearm lobbyists and manufacturers who are strong – not Vegas and not us. That’s the only explanation for our country failing to enact reasonable gun safety laws that are supported by most Americans and American firearm owners. Eighty-five percent of gun owners, for example, support background checks, yet they have never been enacted. (And lest anyone think that I’m anti-firearm, they’re wrong. I come from a family of military veterans, hunters and, soon, a gunsmith.) The NRA and associated powerful interests rely on our short attention spans, along with creating artificial divisions among us, to prevent common sense measures to increase firearm safety and reduce the likelihood of the next Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Orlando, Las Vegas, or the more than 700 firearm fatalities annually in Chicago, and other cities.
The only way that firearm safety becomes a reality is if we keep this incident in our heads and hearts. Simple actions like calling a congressman, especially if you are a firearm owner, can be effective. Also, contributing to gun violence prevention organizations.
But what about something more enduring, something that would focus and galvanize our citizenry until this issue is finally addressed? Imagine if Maya Lin was commissioned to create a memorial to those who lost their lives to firearms. Imagine something similar to Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Something which starkly reflects the loss of so many beautiful and talented lives. Something where you could run your fingers across the victims’ names beginning with: Hannah Ahlers, Heather Alvarado, Dorene Anderson, Carrie Barnette, Jack Beaton, Stephen Berger, Candice Bowers, Denise Burditus, Sandra Casey, Andrea Castilla, Denise Cohen, Austin Davis, Thomas Day, Jr., Christina Duarte, Stacee Etcheber, Brian Fraser, Keri Galvan, Dana Gardner, Angela Gomez, Rocio Gullen Rocha, Charleston Hartfield, Christopher Hazencomb, Jennifer Topaz Irvine, Teresa Nicol Kimura, Jessica Klymchuk, Carly Kreibaum, Rhonda LeRocque, Victor Link, Jordan Mclldoon, Kelsey Meadows, Calla-Marie Medig, James Melton, Patricia Mestas, Austin Meyer, Adrian Murfitt, Rachael Parker, Jennifer Parks, Carolyn Parsons, Lisa Patterson, John Phippen, Melissa Ramirez, Jordyn Rivera, Quinton Robbins, Cameron Robinson, Tara Ann Roe, Lisa Romero-Muniz, Christopher Roybal, Brett Schwanbeck, Bailey Schwitzer, Laura Shipp, Erick Silva, Susan Smith, Brennan Stewart, Derrick Taylor, Neysa Tonks, Michelle Vo, Kurt von Tillow, and Bill Wolfe, Jr.
Above all else, don’t become numb.
This should hurt.