October 1st is yet another sad day for America. A 64-year-old man possessing forty or more rifles has killed 58 and wounded another 515 near the Vegas strip in Nevada. The shooting began during a country music festival. The shooter began firing semi-automatic weapons from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. This is the largest mass shooting in modern US history. So far there are few facts that have made themselves known but from what I can gather from various news outlets there are some important facts to share. It seems that most of the weapons used in the shooting were purchased legally. The shooters family was aware that he owned guns but not that he had any automatic weapons. Some of the people present referred to the shooting as “like he was shooting fish in a barrel” and “non-stop automatic gunfire for 10 minutes or more”. The shooter had more than 40 guns in his arsenal. To clarify, the shooter had some automatic weapons but most were semi-automatic weapons fitted with what is known as a “bump stock” which is a device that makes it possible for semi-automatic rifles to achieve a higher rate of fire. Bump stocks and all of the weapons used are currently legal. The shooter was not a known felon if he was it would have excluded him from procuring the firearms used to perpetrate his crime. I have followed the genesis of gun violence in America for years now and what I have seen is truly disturbing. This is yet another fine example of why American gun culture and the defense of the second amendment has gone too far. As if to add insult to injury the stocks of the two biggest gun companies in the country have risen sharply following the shooting. After the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in 2012 in which an individual shot and killed 20 children, the youngest of which was six years old, I truly thought things were going to change. They never did and since then there have been countless more mass shootings. Gun laws in the United States of America are notoriously lax, but more particularly they are lax in the state of Nevada.
Here are some important things to know about gun laws in Nevada:
- The right to bear arms in Nevada is included in the Nevada State Constitution
- You don’t need a permit to buy a gun, nor are you required to get a license or register a firearm
- There’s no limit on the number of guns a person can buy at one time
- Carrying an unconcealed firearm in public is legal
- There is no mandated waiting period before buying a gun
- You can bring a gun to a polling place, to a casino, and to a bar
- Law enforcement are required to issue a concealed handgun permit to anyone who meets the basic qualifications
- Nevada honors concealed handgun licenses from other states
- Nevada voters passed a ballot measure last year requiring a background check for firearm transactions between private parties. But the state attorney general put it on hold, saying it wasn’t enforceable.
- The state does not prohibit possession of assault weapons, 50-caliber rifles or large-capacity ammunition magazines
With all these laws in mind, let’s consider the rest of the United States and their gun laws, most of this information is available on the National Rifle Association’s website which I will put at the end of this article. My thinking is that the issue with gun violence in the United States is not the lack of legislation or the availability of some types of weapons, it is the total lack of federal legislation. The 2nd amendment of the United States Constitution and the hardcore belief that many US citizens have in it has made legislation, particularly at the federal level, very hard to pass. For example, you are only required to report a missing firearm in just eight of all of the states. There is no federal law that requires you to report lost or stolen firearms. To put that in perspective the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms has said “According to ATF data, private individuals reported the loss or theft of more than 173,000 guns nationwide in 2012. But researchers have estimated that more than half a million firearms are lost or stolen from private residences in a single year”. Which basically means that every year roughly 300,000 guns simply go missing, never to be seen again. Federal law does, however, require licensed firearms dealers to report the loss or theft of any firearm from the dealer’s inventory to the U.S. Attorney General or local law enforcement within 48 hours of discovering the loss or theft. Of course, this example will bring us to the particulars of the Vegas shooting as it relates to the law.
The Vegas shooter purchased a number of weapons either from a registered firearms dealer or privately over the last year, most of which were semi-automatic firearms. Why then did the victims of the shooting report hearing what sounded like automatic weapon fire? That’s very simple, in the US there is an entire industry developed to circumvent federal and state gun laws that limit “how deadly” your weapons can be by adding parts that, while they do not technically break the law, they allow your weapons to do things that they otherwise would not be able to do like achieve a higher rate of fire. Under federal law machine guns are tightly regulated but legal to own as long as they were made before May 1986 and are registered with the federal government. If you don’t meet the standards or the weapons you’re trying to purchase were made after 1986 you do have some method of recourse. A device known as a “bump stock” once fixed to the back of a semi-automatic rifle allows the shooter to achieve automatic rates of fire, these types of devices are currently legal Federally, in most states, and are readily available online for about seventy dollars. Just when you though the news couldn’t get any worse, these devices have been reportedly selling out since the shooting in Las Vegas. It seems as though Republicans are willing to examine the legalities surrounding bump stocks but this is, in my opinion, a half measure to dealing with the problem. If you look at gun culture in the Canadian context there are few similarities. There is no charter right that guarantees you can own a gun. The rate of gun ownership is far lower than that of the United States. There is strict federal legislation concerned with guns, and handguns are currently classified as restricted with AK-47s (just as an example) being considered restricted as well.
Let me be absolutely honest, I think the average gun owner is probably a pretty normal person. Gun culture may seem completely insane but believe it or not there are people who shoot just because they love shooting. Gun culture becomes a problem when you have a nation in which there are upwards of 8,500 gun murders a year. The missing piece in the United States seems to be that there is a total lack of federal legislation regarding weapons. To conclude, there are a number of facets to the issue of gun violence in the United States, how they reconcile that is up to them. But when 59 people are murdered at a music festival by a man who owned more than 40 guns the discussion that began in Vegas shouldn’t stay in Vegas. In my opinion, this discussion shouldn’t have started in Vegas at all.