Las Vegas Tragedy Reignites Gun Control Debate


An unidentified man attempts to console a victim of the October 1 shooting. The woman survived. (David Becker/ Getty Images)

Will Sutton, Photography Editor

On Sunday, October 1, Stephen Paddock opened fire into a crowd gathered for an outdoor country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada. From his hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, the 64-year-old retiree gunned down concertgoers using a modified semiautomatic assault rifle. The current death toll stands at 59, according to the Los Angeles Times. Over 500 others are injured.

The worst mass shooting in American history has reignited the vitriolic gun control debate in American politics. One new facet of this debate is Paddock’s use of the inexpensive and legal modification known as a bump stock. The device allowed his weapon to fire rounds at a rate similar to that of fully automatic weapons, which have been banned in the United States since 1968.

In the early hours of Monday, October 2, Democratic congressmen and women began renewed calls for stricter gun control.

Connecticut senator Chris Murphy tweeted, “To my colleagues: your cowardice to act cannot be whitewashed with thoughts and prayers. None of this ends unless we do something to stop it.”

Democrats Gabby Giffords (AZ) and her husband Mark Kelly, as well as Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, also launched attacks on the phrase “thoughts and prayers”, a line commonly professed by government figures following a tragedy. Warren tweeted, “Thoughts & prayers are NOT enough. Not when more moms & dads will bury kids this week, & more sons & daughters will grow up without parents.” 

Similarly, Massachusetts representatives Katherine Clark and Seth Moulton Monday night boycotted a moment of silence on the House floor, according to CBS News. Seth Moulton preemptively defended his actions, tweeting on Monday morning, “Now is not a moment for silence; it’s a time for action.”

Republicans largely argued for a period of mourning and lamented the immediate politicization of the tragedy. Senate Majority Mitch McConnell told The Hill, “It’s premature to be discussing legislative solutions, if there are any.” Trump took a similarly ambiguous stance, vowing to revisit federal gun laws “as time goes by.”

Students largely mirrored this stance on gun control. Junior Jake Simpson called the shooting a “terrible tragedy,” but added, “We should take a moment to honor the victims before launching into this debate.”

Senior Will Bulkowski, who identifies as an independent, agreed, explaining, “I think there’s a time to mourn and there’s also a time to act.” Junior and Independent Nick Thompson, who says he supports increased gun control, called the Democratic response “disrespectful.”

Brendan Chase, a left-leaning Senior, supported the Democratic response, calling for increased gun regulation and universal background checks. He expressed a general pessimism at the prospect of new legislation, claiming, “If things didn’t change after Newtown, things aren’t going to change now.”

Chase’s pessimism, though justified based on precedent, may be slightly challenged by several new bills and proposals against bump stocks, the aforementioned modification used by Paddock. The NRA has released a statement in favor of increased ATF regulation of bump stocks, though Democrats see this as a ploy to avoid true congressional action on gun control. Several bills proposing to ban the devices have garnered bipartisan support in the House and Senate, according to The Hill. Of the Hingham High School students interviewed, all supported a ban on bump stocks.

The Las Vegas tragedy was the worst mass shooting in American history, topping the June 12, 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting that left 49 dead. But Congress has not enacted any major gun control legislation since 1994, when it temporarily banned semiautomatic weapons for ten years. While a possible bump stock ban could be a rare example of bipartisan cooperation in the history of gun legislation, it is unlikely that the 59 casualties of October 1 will result in any major gun control changes in a Republican-controlled Congress.