October 3, 2017

TSC IntelBrief: A Slaughter in Las Vegas

The sounds might have been imported from a war zone

• On October 1, at least 59 people were killed and 527 injured when a gunman opened fire on a country music concert in Las Vegas.

• The attack is the single worst mass shooting in U.S. history, surpassing the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, just 16 months ago.

• The so-called Islamic State has claimed the attack; authorities stated the gunman had no known terror ties.

• The attack highlighted crippling divisions and paralysis in the U.S. regarding issues surrounding gun violence and terrorism.


The sounds might have been imported from a war zone. Long bursts of what appeared to be fully automatic gunfire as people fled, screaming in panic. Understandably, initial reports were wildly inaccurate, leaving the impression that parts of Las Vegas were under assault by multiple heavily armed attackers. The reality was at least as devastating. One man, firing from a 32-story hotel window into a crowded outdoor concert venue, murdered at least 59 people with more than 500 injured; some struck by bullets, others caught in the stampede. The October 1 assault in Las Vegas is now the worst single mass shooting in U.S. history; the previous worst massacre took place 16 months ago in Orlando  where another lone gunman murdered 49 people. 

Officials say the gunman was 64-year old Stephen Paddock, a retiree who lived in the area and liked to gamble. He reportedly killed himself after firing for almost ten minutes from his room in the Mandalay Bay Hotel on the Vegas strip. Authorities said they found at least 23 firearms in his hotel room, including two weapons with telescopic sights mounted on tripods; they believe least one of the rifles was capable of being fired as a fully automatic weapon. 

While there are often immediate ‘obvious-in-hindsight’ indications of violent extremism in mass-shooting cases, none have surfaced as yet. Police said the gunman was not on their radar and were not aware he had any connections to terrorism or other criminal activity.  The FBI stated they hadn’t found any connection to terrorism in the case, though their investigation was proceeding. 

Unlike recent mass shootings in Orlando, San Bernardino and Chattanooga, the assault is not believed to be connected to the so-called Islamic State. However, that didn’t stop the terrorist group from claiming responsibility for the attack through its Amaq media channel. While not offering any evidence to support its claim, the group issued several statements; one saying the gunman was a recent Muslim convert (something his brother has denied), another giving him a kunya of Abu Ab’d Bar al-Amriki.

The aftermath of these traumatic events has become all-too familiar in the United States. There is a rush to frame the narrative, often with immediate, false claims of ‘Muslim attackers’, followed by cries on all sides that a national tragedy is being ‘politicized’. A new element added to the confusion, anger, and pain are the instantaneous ‘fake news’ articles aimed at inflaming social and political tensions. One example from October 1 — the Russian propaganda venue Sputnik flatly stated that the FBI had linked the attack to the Islamic State, after the Bureau had literally said the opposite. 

Missing among the ‘thoughts and prayers’ that follow many mass attacks are thoughtful approaches on how to address what is almost a uniquely American crime.  There have been 273 mass shootings (attacks with four or more victims) in the U.S. so far, this year - nearly one a day. When attackers are judged to be ‘terrorists’, then laws and other restrictions are quickly proposed and passed against them. Meanwhile, mass murders not connected to terrorism continue to occur with numbing regularity.  In those cases, the U.S. Congress has either refused to enact any new restrictions on firearms—or made future attacks more difficult for law enforcement to respond to and counter.  This week Congress was expected to take up a bill to ease restrictions on suppressors—also known as silencers—for guns. In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, the bill may now be delayed, if only for appearances sake.


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