Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Why Las Vegas horror must be the turning point for US gun laws

The sheer scale of the massacre in Las Vegas - nearly 60 dead and more than 500 injured at the time of writing - is staggering. That it could have been carried out by a 64-year-old man adds another breathtaking dimension to the killing spree.

How could anyone, never mind a man of that maturity, who seems never to have been in trouble before, suddenly decide to carry out such a wilful act of mass murder?

Those he directed his withering hail of fire at never stood a chance. A densely packed crowd at an outdoor concert was the perfect target for a gunman armed with an array of semi-automatic weapons and firing from a high vantage point, giving him an uninterrupted view of the crowd.

We in Northern Ireland, especially those of us of a certain age, can have some appreciation of the horror of what happened in Las Vegas. The comments of eye-witnesses from here to events along the Strip read like so many comments we were used to during the Troubles.

While there can be no comparison on the scale of the atrocity, those caught up in events in that city experienced the same sort of terror that so many here felt when gunmen opened fire into public houses in the province during the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties.

What happened yesterday was a terrifying experience for people who had gone to the gambling and entertainment capital for the holiday of a lifetime and instead got caught up in events which will probably stay with some of them for a lifetime.

In the immediate aftermath of the killings, once again attention turns to what the rest of the world regards as the absurd gun laws in the US. Nevada has some of the most lax laws, which enable people to buy virtually any kind and any number of weapons they want.

When the second amendment to the American Constitution was drafted in 1791, the right to bear arms was a necessity in an emerging country, if only for self-defence.

But that raison d'etre has long gone. The reason that politicians can find neither the courage nor compassion to change the laws, even to amend them to the state where the type of weapons used in so many mass shootings - arms designed purely for use in military conflicts - are prohibited is because of the power of the gun lobbyists and the determination of the arms industry to continue to rake in the revenue from its sale of deadly firearms.

Many felt that a turning point came in December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut when a young man shot dead 20 six and seven-year-old schoolchildren and six staff members, as well as his own mother.

That atrocity reduced President Obama to tears when he addressed the nation, but little has changed since. President Trump, by comparison, is on record as defending the right of all Americans to bear arms and vowed never to interfere with it. The Supreme Court last year ruled that the second amendment extends to all types of weapons which could be described as arms, even those which were not in existence when the original legislation was drafted.

That shows how deeply this issue has penetrated the DNA of Americans, and no matter how many deaths occur or how horrific the atrocities committed by gunmen are, there is a huge reluctance to follow the example of the UK, for example, which tightened up its gun laws following the killing of 16 schoolchildren and one teacher at Dunblane in Scotland in 1996. It is a lesson yet to be learned in the US.

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