Las Vegas shooting: For gun control, Trump must focus on socio-economic challenges of poor Whites
While the possibility the Las Vegas massacre had a terrorist link cannot be fully ruled out, the evidence points to the killer responsible for the worst mass shooting in United States history as being a person who acted on his own for no political motive. Fifty-nine people were shot dead by Stephen Paddock and over 500 injured.
But he does not fit into the profile of most mass shooters or even the “lone wolves” recruited online by Islamic State (ISIS). He was a millionaire, an accountant who had lived a life so within the bounds of the law that he had never had a traffic ticket. The ISIS has claimed him, but the reliability of statements by the self-proclaimed caliphate has fallen as rapidly as its fortunes on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria.
The mystery of the gunman may never be fully resolved. However, the Las Vegas massacre has re-ignited a long-standing and seemingly unresolvable debate in the US about the country’s gun control laws and regulations – or lack of the same. It is unlikely there will be any major change at the national level. The Republican Party, the party that treats unrestricted gun ownership as a constitutional right, controls the Congress and the president, Donald Trump, campaigned against gun control.
The US’ love affair with the gun mystifies other developed nations. Americans, roughly 5% of the world’s population, own an estimated 35-40% of the planet’s entire civilian weapons. One consequence is an astonishing number of shooter incidents – Las Vegas was the 273rd so far this year. While even Europe, with among the tightest gun control rules in the world, is no stranger to such violent incidents, the number and, most important, the lethality of such acts in Europe is a fraction of the US’.
The US’ problem goes much deeper and is related to the socio-economic group that propelled Mr Trump to power. The white working class has come to see gun ownership, along with the defeated Confederacy, bans on abortion and prayer in schools, as symbols of their identity.
The logic of gun control is irrelevant. This class opposes the idea because it is seen as an attempt to further disempower them in a country where they feel increasingly marginalised. Unless this is addressed, and reviving their economic fortunes is at the heart of this, the right to bear arms and presidents like Mr Trump will remain fixtures of the US’ political landscape. Guns are part of a cultural narrative in which Las Vegas is the latest but not the last chapter.