Following the appalling events in Nevada, President Trump flew into Las Vegas to reassure the United States that violence was not what defined the nation, but that Americans loved one another. Somebody asked him if it was time to review the Second Amendment and he replied, “Now is not the time.” You might ask, if not now, then when?
So let us review the Second Amendment.
A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
That was written in 1787, and you can see that it is of its time. That first clause – an ablative absolute if you will – is crucial. The sense is that the people must be able to arm themselves so that, for the benefit of the State, they can come together and form a Home Guard that, note, is well regulated. I don’t think Mr Paddock, when he chose to open rapid automatic fire on an assembly from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort Hotel, was well regulated.
With all the media attention, I was curious that nobody seemed interested to ask how it could be that a man could smuggle 23 heavy duty guns into a hotel room, and not be noticed. Presumably the arms were contained in nondescript cases. They would have been heavy. Did the bell-hop trundle a luggage carrier out to the carpark and load it up? Probably not. Too risky. You could imagine the conversation. “You sure aint travellin’ light, mister. What you packing?” He would have needed a cover story. “It’s medical equipment. I’m a rep. I don’t like to leave the stuff in the trunk.” But then the bell-hop might mention it to the concierge. “Oh don’t feel you have to cart that stuff up to your room, sir. We can store it for you securely down here.” No. He must have taken the equipment up himself. Twenty three guns, some fitted with “bump-stocks” to turn them into machine guns, plus a tonne of ammunition, plus CCTV equipment (he set up his own surveillance system), plus his personal baggage (literally and metaphorically). He must have made more than a dozen round trips. 32 storeys is a big climb so he probably didn’t use the back stairs. He would have taken the elevator. He would have spaced the trips out so that it wouldn’t be obvious he was a removal man.
Even unpacked, the cases would have taken up a lot of room. What did the chamber maid make of them? Perhaps he put the “Do not disturb” sign on the outside door knob. The maid would be Hispanic. No molestar! But he was resident for four days. She must have cleaned at least a couple of times. Somebody might have checked the minibar daily. You would have thought that he was taking a huge gamble. All it would have needed to stop him would have been the discovery of even a single weapon, linked with the idea that there could be more, and therefore that a man with a deadly arsenal would shortly have the mass audience of an outdoor concert of country music within his line of fire. How on earth did he get away with it?
He had another huge armoury at home. A total of 42 weapons, all apparently purchased legally. No doubt he collected them over the years. Maybe he shopped around so that no single dealer became aware he was amassing such a lethal armamentarium. Do the dealers talk to one another? Is there a record of gun ownership that law enforcement agencies can access? In any case, would anybody raise an eyebrow that somebody wanted to own all these guns? Maybe in the US people collect guns the way people here might collect stamps. But why would you want to own an automatic weapon that has been designed to mow down large numbers of an advancing enemy on the battlefield? Is there any top limit to what the good citizens of Nevada would tolerate? A howitzer? Field cannon? A small but dirty neutron bomb?
Supporters of the National Rifle Association sometimes say that the agency to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. It’s the fallacy of redemptive violence. You only need to look at the motion picture industry to see how the US is wedded to it. The good guy rides into town, destroys the bad guys, and rides off into the horizon. John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper. He is low key and anonymous. The Lone Ranger. Talk softly and carry a big stick. The final arbiter is the gun. You would have thought a film poster of a guy, or a gal, pointing a gun, would by now have worn a little threadbare, but the image seems to keep up with the times. Today’s shootist turns the gun left through ninety degrees and shoots palm down. It’s chic.
This notion of the man in the street as hero is locked in to the idea that the common man will resist, not only alien invasion, but corruption from within. A US Congress that threatens to become too authoritarian had better look out. Rumour has it that Congress, even on the Republican side, is moved to reopen a discussion on gun control. I’m not holding my breath. It’s often said that the National Rifle Association is a very powerful lobby and it occurs to me that that somewhat clichéd iteration has a sinister undertone. It is actually very difficult to debate with somebody who is armed to the teeth. I have a notion that the US will only ditch – or even amend – the Second Amendment when there is a ground swell of public opinion of the sort that was seen in demonstrations in the 1960s against the Vietnam War, and for Civil Rights.