THE DEADLIEST LONE-MAN SHOOTING IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES WAS NOT AN ACT OF TERRORISM
A FEATURE BY ALEKSANDRA GEORGIEVA
The Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, caused mass panic late in 2017. This is the outline of the event viewed from different perspectives, including an interview with a visitor of the state on the day of the shooting.
Las Vegas – a city of possibilities, fabricated by desires and romanticised by Hollywood. The unmissable shows, colourful casinos and glorious scenery create a place of entertainment and opportunities but this October the state was overtaken by fear. One man alone caused panic, mass murder and horror for locals and tourists in one of the most visited destinations in the country. Some debates over the tragedy raised the question of a terrorist act, but does this really explain the deadliest single-man shooting in the history of the United States or is there more to be added to the story?
In the beginning of October, Stephen Paddock, single handedly killed 58 and wounded over five hundred more people, who were attending a country music festival in the centre of Vegas. ‘The streets were less busy than normal’ shares Panicos Karkallis, who was watching a show with a couple of friends at the Luxor casino next door during the time of the shooting. As they attempted to visit another event, the entire atmosphere in the city had changed and a lady, who worked at the casino was panicking while explaining that the venue was closed. Staff members, running and putting barriers at the parking, wouldn’t let anyone in or out and this was when Karkallis realised something tragic had happened. ‘Police was everywhere’. At the beginning only two people were reported to have died but the authorities would barricade people in Belagio until five in the morning.
‘It was like a ghost town.’
The shooting started from Paddock’s hotel suite where by conformation from police officials, the gunman was armed with automatic weapons as well as AR-15-style military riffles, capable of targeting specific individuals. His motives remained unknown due to self-inflicted gunshot but whether this was an act of terrorism or not, became an ongoing public discussion.
While the gun death rate in Nevada is above average, the gun laws cannot be the only factor influencing this statistic. According to the law, one does not need a permit for the purchase of handguns, shotguns or riffles, nor does one have to license or register those with the state. Yet, the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986 banned civilians from using fully automatic weapons, which reload and fire continuously with only one trigger pull. While, the guns produced before the cutoff remained legal and around 193 000 machines are still in ownership, those guns are also very expensive and carefully tracked by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. However, Paddock managed to find a way to circumvent the law.
It takes no more than $200 and the filling of a form to purchase semi-automatic guns from a dealer, which could easily be converted into automatic ones even by convicted felons. What is more, the gun law of Nevada states that one needs a permit to carry handguns around, but the same requirement doesn’t apply to riffles and shotguns. In relation to the Vegas massacre late in 2017, it has been reported that in June, less than four months before the shooting, Paddock had also been prescribed with Diozepam – an anti-anxiety medication resulting in violent and aggressive behavior. Yet, Paddock managed to pass the background check required by the Federal law, which prohibits the possession of firearm by people convicted of a crime, addicted to substances or those, who have been adjudicated or mentally ill. However, it could still be argued whether the shooting was an act of terrorism at all.
‘We were lucky we didn’t witness it’ says Karkallis, who experienced mixed feelings of relief, annoyance and sadness in the evening of 1st October. While his holiday took an unexpected turn where most places around one of the most popular travel destinations in the world were closed and all the events were cancelled, Karkallis expressed his opinion in relation to the ongoing public dialog. ‘It wasn’t a terrorist. It was just one crazy person.’
The Oxford Dictionary defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims”. However, in the case with Stephen Paddock there was no evidence of any political agenda. Although he caused mass murder, his motives remained unknown and there were no arguments over intentions of causing terror with a political aim. Perhaps the first events that comes to mind when discussing terrorism, are the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda terrorists, aimed at the Twin Towers in New York, The Department of Defense in Virginia and at Washington D.C. Islamic terrorists on the boards of four airplanes committed suicide attacks resulting in aircraft hijacking and mass murder. Not only did those individuals have a political agenda, but the effects of their actions had a global impact.
The collapse of the North and South towers of the World Trade Center changed security systems and requirements not only in the state of New York but also in most of the countries around the world. The effect was not only a massive loss of lives, evacuations, severe property and infrastructure damage as well as horror. The 9/11 attacks also harmed the economy and the global markets, lead to the temporary close of Wall Street and moreover, raised a “War on Terror” as a response from America. Along with security measurements, the skylines were also changed, and worldwide people started to fear flying, which is easy to witness even today. This act was labelled as terrorism due to the political agenda and the impact of terror it had not only on certain societies but on nearly every nation around the world.
Another example is the bomb detonation in May 2017 during a public concert at the Manchester arena in the UK. The attack caused by an Islamist-extremist killed twenty-three people and injured over five hundred more, causing fear in the population. In comparison, there have been many cases where the threat of a bomb occurs, resulting in massive horror and evacuation of public places in key cities around the world. Even though this wouldn’t always end with an actual attack, it does bring up constant fear among people. Those examples also serve as a proof that an act of terrorism doesn’t necessarily cause mass death. Instead, its primary purpose is to cause massive fear of terrifying acts as a result of the actions of individuals or groups that have political intentions in mind.
'Bad things have more impact than good ones unfortunately’ says Panicos Karkallis who also believes that the number of negative events that occur worldwide isn’t necessarily higher, but due to media and technology, the traffic of information is faster. ‘News travel fast now’ he states adding that this is the reason people get to know more frequently about more bad events, terror attacks and shootings.
Taking all this information in mind makes the difference between a mass murder and terrorism a bit clearer. Yet, the so called “War on Terror” is not the way to prevent politically influenced violence against civilians. It is true that these days news spread fast and that might just be the key to finding a solution against terror. The media influences people just as much as it informs them, and the more terrorism is talked about, the more fear is caused. While people’s lives are more likely to be endangered by a car accident than a terrorist attack, the negative atmosphere that surrounds the media, makes them very afraid of the possibility of such thing happening. Perhaps, if acts of terrorism weren’t discussed as ongoing topics, things would be different. The more voice is given to an act or event, the more power it gains over the public. This is how fear spreads among people and it might also be the way if not to prevent it, then at least to minimalise it. With the right approach, the media could potentially influence the public not to be so afraid and consequently to weaken the effects and causes of terrorism.