Fear and loathing in Las Vegas

THe lone gunman opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel. He targeted thousands of concertgoers who had gathered for the most American of pastimes: a country music concert on a Sunday night. He left 59 people dead and 527 injured.

As Trinidad and Tobago was focusing on the Budget presentation on Monday, the United States of America was coming to terms with the deadliest mass shooting in its modern history. We take a moment to deviate from the debate of the Budget provisions to express condolences and to garner what lessons we can from this tragedy.

It seems these kinds of mass killings are becoming increasingly frequent on US soil. The wounds from last year’s mass killing at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando – which claimed the lives of 49 people mainly from the LGBTQ community – are yet to heal.

It is a relief to learn that no Trinidad and Tobago national was counted among the dead on Sunday, but many were affected and could have easily been among the dead. Las Vegas is one of the world’s top tourist destinations.

“It was a truly terrifying experience, from where we were we had a good vantage point of the shooting as it unfolded,” Trini-born businesswoman Kamika Conway told Newsday. “We saw people running and taking cover.”

It has been reported the suspect – who appears to have killed himself as law enforcement authorities stormed his hotel room – had amassed an arsenal of more than 40 firearms. Authorities found 23 guns, including a handgun, in the hotel room of the gunman, identified by police as 64-year-old Stephen Paddock. At least some of these guns were equipped with scopes, devices that help the shooter identify targets at a range, police said. Asked if the shooting was an act of domestic terrorism, US President Donald Trump said: “He was a sick man, a demented a man. A lot of problems, I guess, and we’re looking into him very, very seriously. But we are dealing with a very, very sick individual.”

It seems this “sick man” had a pilot’s licence, a hunter’s licence, was a professional gambler and had a clean criminal record.

Certainly the response of the authorities to the incident demonstrates the importance of ensuring adequate resources are allocated to national security.

As we debate the budget’s $6.2 billion allocation under this head, US officials will be seeking to tie up this case and to learn what steps, if any, could have been taken to prevent these senseless killings. Certainly the issue of gun control laws will be discussed.

The importance of measures to deal with national security cannot be overemphasised. Over the last three years, our national security spending has averaged about $8.4 billion a year.

Yet it is difficult to account for how effective this spending has been given the proliferation of violent crime as well as the hidden nature of the work done by the national security community.

With spending down due to the cooling of revenues, there will be serious challenges ahead in terms of how the situation is managed. In this context, international cooperation with our partners and allies is even more vital. We welcome Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s announcement of the signing of a memorandum of intent with the US Government for the establishment of a state-of-the-art border control system that will document the arrival and departure of international travellers at airports and seaports in Trinidad and Tobago.

But as the Las Vegas experience demonstrates, gun control is an area where the State cannot afford to be complacent. With the majority of murders being committed by guns, systems must be in place to keep firearms off the streets and out of the hands of troubled individuals. That, at least, is one lesson we can learn from Las Vegas.


"Fear and loathing in Las Vegas"

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