Doing nothing cannot be acceptable


Here we go again.

An apparently disturbed individual carries multiple rifles into a high-rise hotel on the Las Vegas strip, breaks out a window of his 32nd-floor room and opens fire on a crowd gathered below for a music festival. As far as anyone has been able to determine, he acquired his weapons legally, although he may have employed a modification to allow his guns to mimic fully automatic rapid firing, allowing him to kill at least 59 people and injure more than 500 in a matter of minutes.

We have no idea why he did this. We may never know for sure. He is dead; he took his own life before responding police burst into his room.

What we do know is that this kind of wanton slaughter has become entirely too common. We also know that there is precious little that can be done to make these incidents more difficult or less frequent or less deadly, because our Constitution guarantees each of us the right to own as many firearms as we wish. Every attempt to enact reasonable restrictions on that right — such as expanding background checks to all sales, including gun-show sales — is met with furious opposition from the National Rifle Association, which is essentially the lobbying arm of the gun manufacturing industry.

All of this is because the United States is virtually the only nation that enshrines a right to bear arms in its constitution. In fact, there are three: Guatemala, Mexico and the United States. And the U.S. is the only one that does not include a restrictive condition on gun ownership.

Many argue that the reference to "a well-regulated militia" in the awkwardly worded Second Amendment constitutes such a restriction, but the Supreme Court has ruled otherwise. The right to bear arms is not a collective right subject to regulation but an individual right, the justices ruled in 2008.

Such is the power of the Second Amendment that it has resulted in a law that, since 1996, has effectively blocked the federal government from even spending money to study the subject of gun violence in America. As a result, we don't know with any accuracy how many guns there are, who owns them or — most important — whether various restrictions on guns enacted by the states, or in other countries, have been or might be effective in limiting gun deaths.

Of course gun-rights supporters will point out, as they always do, that no law could have prevented Stephen Paddock from doing what he did on Sunday night. He had no history of criminal behavior or mental illness. He was wealthy, so he could have obtained any firearm he wanted even if guns were completely outlawed.

So where does that leave us? Are we supposed to simply accept the slaughter of dozens of people as the new normal? Should we just shrug our shoulders and say there is nothing we can do?

I don't know about you, but I'm not willing to give up that easily. At the very least, let's remove the restriction on federally funded research into gun violence, and start looking for answers. Because the questions won't stop coming.

 — Reach Editorial Page Editor Gary Nelson at

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