I was one of the first to arrive at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on Sunday because I was there to review the concert for the Las Vegas Weekly. I passed through the metal detector without thinking about it. But security would not protect against a threat that never entered the concert grounds. Everybody was all smiles. This was a happy, chill day. Fortunately for me, I left before sundown.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, I’ve understood that some catastrophe might eventually befall my city. After the shooting at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris in 2015, I pictured being trapped in one of my favorite casinos, unable to escape.
But I also told myself it couldn’t happen here. I fostered an idea, a fantasy, that terrorists may hint at attacking Vegas, but they’d never actually follow through, because even fundamentalists secretly love Sin City and don’t want to ruin it. Silly, I know.
Vegas is the Wild West. It’s the only state where prostitution is legal, where gambling isn’t a secret but a recognized and celebrated part of the mainstream culture. For many, owning guns is part of that culture, too. Firearms are all tied up, somehow, with freedom. Now we’re going to have to think about which freedoms matter to us the most.
The freedom to live? The freedom of movement? The freedom to travel around the state and country (and check into hotels) without being scanned, searched and prodded? Or the freedom to amass arsenals of war? It’s our choice. Which ones are sacred to us as a state, and as a country? This is a question of identity. Right now, it’s clear who we are. Right now, we are willing to give up everything in exchange for unlimited gun access. Is that who we want to be?
My heart breaks for all who were touched by this tragedy. The victims first, but also the woman in St. George, Utah, who woke up Monday morning to discover that her husband sold a shotgun to that lunatic, Stephen Paddock. My heart breaks for the gun sellers, too. At some level they must know that they’re part of the problem. They are also just one link in a supply chain that starts in a metal mine and ends with the undertaker.
The St. George gun seller, Chris Michel of Dixie GunWorx, told the local news that there were no warning signs. That Paddock was just an “average, everyday Joe Blow” no different from any of his other customers. But what if the desire to own a bunch of military-grade weaponry is in and of itself a warning sign?
Guns play into Vegas fantasies. In Vegas, you can pay good money to shoot fake zombies with a machine gun.
But this was not a Vegas crime. Paddock was not one of us, and from what we know so far he wasn’t even out to punish us for the crime of living in a city of excess. He wasn’t a religious nut who thought God wanted him to teach us a lesson.
We were singled out. But we’re just one of many. The shooting could have happened anywhere. Next time, it will happen somewhere else.
If the crime wasn’t “Vegas,” then the recovery and response have been. We’re a family town with about a quarter of us working in the hospitality industry. Blood donors have overwhelmed the blood banks. My friends in the culinary industry have opened their kitchens and coordinated truly heroic operations for cooking and delivering food.
We’re the helpers, and all the victims are our guests. We wish they didn’t have to take their pain home.
I’ve heard from friends elsewhere that they’d like to “do something” for Las Vegas.
Here’s one idea: In addition to donating money, you can put to rest the “good guy with a gun” narrative. This festival was full of good guys with guns; one of the concessions sold concealed-weapon purses made out of leather. But the good guys couldn’t take out the bad guy spraying bullets from a hotel window 32 flights up.
Here’s another: You can come to Vegas.
But whatever you do, please don’t pray for Vegas. We’re proud of the Sin City label and would rather you saved your breath for calls to your representatives. God hasn’t seen fit to give us sensible gun regulations, but your representatives can.
C. Moon Reed is a staff writer for the Las Vegas Weekly. Follow her on Twitter @cmoonreed and on Facebook.com/cmoonreed.