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Las Vegas, the mecca of fantasy, gets a grotesque reminder that no place in America is safe from guns

Las Vegas, the mecca of fantasy, gets a grotesque reminder that no place in America is safe from guns
A vase of flowers was left on Las Vegas Boulevard and Reno Avenue Monday morning for the victims of the mass shooting in Las Vegas. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Las Vegas has always loomed large as the ultimate American escape fantasy — escape from worry, from sobriety, from the restraints of puritanical norms.

You go to Las Vegas to have fun, not to outrun bullets.

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You go to Las Vegas to see the Cirque du Soleil, not to be terrorized.

You go to Las Vegas to get married, not to watch your spouse die.

When I phoned on Monday afternoon, I expected the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to tell me they'd been fielding calls from freaked-out vacationers, canceling plans.

Instead, I was told, the bureau has been inundated by people wondering how they can help.

"We tell them to call the Red Cross," said spokeswoman Sandra Perez, who has heard of no show cancellations after Sunday's heartbreaking events. "They need blood."

Late Sunday night, a gunman rained bullets on a gathering of country music fans, killing at least 59 people, injuring at least 527 and traumatizing untold thousands. The concert took place outside; the gunfire came from the 32nd floor of the high-rise hotel 400 yards away.

"I don't know how it could have been prevented," said Las Vegas Sheriff Joe Lombardo during a Monday morning news conference held by law enforcement and elected officials. Have more chilling words ever been spoken?

These days, every time you enter a public venue — a movie theater, a church, a college campus, a first-grade classroom, a nightclub — it's hard not to feel at least a small shiver of fear. You are making a leap of faith that you will leave as you have arrived, in one piece.

The circumstances in Las Vegas were unusual, to be sure. The Mandalay Bay hotel made a perfect perch for a sniper willing to break out the windows to use his weapons. But every gun attack is unique in its own way. I would love to hear the pro-gun side's arguments about how a good guy with a gun might have stopped this bad guy, who was shooting automatic fire into a crowd.

After the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, I have felt that shiver every time I've been near the Santa Monica Pier during its Thursday summer concert series. I have felt it every time I have walked into the Hollywood Bowl. How can you not?

In this gun-mad society, you hope the risks have been minimized and you know the odds are in your favor. But you also understand that no place is entirely safe.

I expect that after the funerals, vigils and investigations, Las Vegas will return to business as usual: promoting its extremely profitable brand of fantasy and entertainment to the 43 million visitors who pass through its neon portals each year.

There will be scars, of course. Hard to imagine that revelers who jam the Strip this New Year's Eve will have the same feeling of abandon as in years past. The website Vegas.com promises that on Dec. 31, the entire Strip, which is closed to traffic, "becomes like one giant block party for you and 300,000 of your closest drinking buddies." No thanks.

Las Vegas is a town where cognitive dissonance has been raised to an art form.

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It sits on the periphery of the Mojave Desert, but it is home to versions of the Eiffel Tower, the Venice canals and the skyline of New York City. The audacity of Las Vegas' architectural plagiarism is astonishing. Las Vegas has always been the place where America goes to pretend it is something it is not.

Inside the hotel casinos, attention to detail is extraordinary, and there is always the sense that no cost has been spared. You expect to see women in gowns and men in tuxedos, as befit the surroundings. Instead, you see hordes of people in cutoffs, T-shirts and sandals, plunking their quarters into machines that almost never give back, hoping to hit the jackpot that never comes.

But the sham of escapism is over. At least for now.

Las Vegas takes its place atop the list of American cities whose names have become synonymous with extraordinary gun atrocities: Aurora, Colo.; Charleston, S.C.; Blacksburg, Va.; Newtown, Conn.; Orlando, Fla., to name just a few.

What happened on Sunday night to the 22,000 or so country music lovers gathered at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in a huge open-air venue can never be hidden or downplayed or forgotten.

A maniac with an arsenal of weapons spent at least 10 minutes picking off people who had nowhere to hide.

Are we shocked that a murderer with an armory chose Las Vegas to make his last stand?

No, but we are sickened.

As we know from recent bloody experience, this kind of thing can happen anywhere in our country.

Even the home of American escapism offers no respite from guns.

Get more of Robin Abcarian's work and follow her on Twitter @AbcarianLAT

Twitter: @AbcarianLAT

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