Las Vegas tragedy renews gun debate, but will it move to common ground?

Oct 3, 2017

As investigators continue to figure out the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, the tragedy of Las Vegas is renewing a long-running gun control debate. Local advocates on both sides are weighing in.


Investigators say Stephen Paddock, the man they've identified as the Las Vegas shooter, had multiple rifles in his hotel room including one that operated as an automatic weapon. Such firearms have been banned from the general public since 1944, with a few rare exceptions.

"In very few instances, the civilian can own one in certain states, as long as he has a Class 3 license, which is issued by the ATF and the FBI," said Budd Schroeder of the Shooters Committee on Public Education New York, or SCOPE. 

If Paddock did not possess such a license, Schroeder added, he would either have to obtain the automatic weapon illegally, or modify a rifle to operate as such, which is also against the law. In either case, he argues, he would be an outlaw with a weapon. To pursue additional gun control legislation would be, in the eyes of SCOPE members, going after the wrong people.

"Gun control affects only honest people," Schroeder said. "Criminals don't obey laws. That's what makes them criminals. Our point is no matter what gun law you put out, only honest people will obey it, and they're not dangerous."

On the other side, gun control supporters believe the Second Amendment was designed to protect the rights of militia at the time it was written. Paul McQuillen, Upstate Coordinator for the organization New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, suggests the current presidential administration, congressional majority and makeup of the Supreme Court will whittle away at existing gun controls and create an environment which makes mass shootings like the one in Las Vegas "the new norm."

McQuillen pointed to a U.S. News and World Report story which indicates the House of Representatives may vote as early as this week on a bill that, as appearing on page 16 of the 144-page document, would lift restrictions on silencers and treat them as ordinary firearms. 

Following past mass shootings, the issue of mental health has surfaced in the gun control debate. It is, again. 

"You have to go to the cause. The cause isn't guns. The cause of the shootings are the people holding them," Schroeder said. 

"If I have a hammer and use it to build a house, it's a tool. That same hammer, if I use it to crush your skull, it becomes a weapon. It's the same thing with guns. Guns, by themselves, are not dangerous. They're dangerous only if somebody with an illegal or evil intent handles them."

McQuillen counters that one cannot paint every mass shooter as mentally ill. He suggests only a small fraction of those who carry out such incidents truly are.

"Only four percent of the time are those undertaken by those with mental illness," McQuillen said. 

New York State's SAFE Act is opposed by SCOPE but supported by NYAGV. McQuillen says the problem with enforcing the SAFE Act is that other nearby states have more relaxed gun rules and make it more encouraging for people to acquire their firearms there, and then bring them into New York State.

"If they had strict limitations on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, if they had background checks at gun shows, in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania and the iron pipeline up the East Coast, certainly our laws would be much more effective because there wouldn't be the gun trafficking into New York State that there is."