When Clark Aposhian stood before the stage for the Route 91 Harvest country music festival on Friday, looking up at the patched-up window of Room 32135 at the Mandalay Bay hotel, he felt a surreal chill.
Aposhian was in Las Vegas for an impromptu meeting with local gun-rights advocates in the wake of the Oct. 1 shooting, the deadliest in modern American history in which 58 people were killed by a sniper firing from the hotel and more than 500 were wounded. Through his contacts with law enforcement, Aposhian, a firearms instructor and chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, was able to visit the now-hallowed and heavily guarded concert grounds.
He was looking at the nest of gunman Stephen Paddock, knowing what thousands of people gathered there a few days before didn’t — where the gunman was; crucial information for people running for their lives.
He looked around and thought: “I’m completely exposed. I don’t know how anyone standing here, gathered for singer Jason Aldean’s set, could protect themselves from a shooter perched 32 floors up and under concealment of night.”
“There’s nothing there to stop a bullet,” he said Saturday at the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa, where he was to teach concealed-carry classes at the Crossroads of the West Gun Show. “There just isn’t.”
The Las Vegas shooting was on people’s minds at the two-day gun show, which takes place about every two months at the Orange County fairgrounds and was planned long in advance of the Vegas massacre. But business carried on as usual. Enthusiasts peered through sophisticated scopes and collectors looked over antique revolvers.
Crossroads has been coming to Costa Mesa for 35 years and bills itself as the largest gun show in California. The show had vendors spread out over several buildings, selling gun parts, accessories, ammunition, military equipment, apparel, knives, stun guns and Americana.
It had its usual attendance, said Crossroads’ chief executive, Bob Templeton. A Crossroads show being held this weekend in Reno, Nev., where Paddock had a home, also was going on without incident, he added.
But the show scheduled for Las Vegas on Oct. 21-22 might be put off.
“Management at Crossroads is sensitive to the concerns and feelings of those in Las Vegas affected by the recent tragedy, and Crossroads management is considering postponing the show,” Templeton said.
“Bump fire” stocks, which Paddock had equipped on semiautomatic rifles in the attack, and automatic weapons — illegal in California — were not being sold at this weekend’s event.
Bump stocks can be fitted on semiautomatic firearms to make them fire more like fully automatic weapons. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Wednesday proposed legislation that would ban the devices nationwide. Republican Party leaders and the National Rifle Assn. said Thursday that they will consider limiting bump stocks.
Rick Salazar, a volunteer at the NRA booth just outside the show’s gates, said there are enough gun laws on the books and that more would only punish law-abiding citizens.
“Every time there’s a tragedy, the politicians are in a rush to get on the news and make statements about how we need to tighten up gun-control laws,” he said. “I don’t know what they can tighten up on that isn’t already in place, except for an outright gun ban.”
Paddock’s purchases, Salazar pointed out, were made legally. “How can you prevent something when everything was done legally?”
Vendor Paul Corro, along with his staff, sold gun parts and accessories while wearing T-shirts that read “Las Vegas Strong” under a silhouette of the Strip’s distinct skyline. Corro and his business, Kato Enterprises, are based in Vegas.
He said he knew two people shot at the concert, daughters of a friend. The young women survived and will recover.
Corro doesn’t know what set Paddock off, but “it’s an evil thing,” he said.
He’s cool to gun control in general and thinks existing laws should be better enforced. But he did say he would be open to restrictions on modifications like bump stocks.
Aposhian, the shooting instructor and lobbyist, said bump stocks shouldn’t be banned nationwide — a ban would be an emotional reaction that wouldn’t make anyone safer.
There is no pattern of bump stocks’ use in the commission of crimes, and even if the devices were outlawed, shooters can use other techniques for rapid firing, he said.
The real problem, he said, is mental health. He called for a cultural shift to encourage people to intervene and take away their friends’ guns when they see them acting differently. He compared it to taking away a drunk person’s keys so he or she can’t drive impaired.
So far, authorities have no motive for Paddock’s actions.
Aposhian said people want to know why Paddock did what he did. They want to know where to direct their rage, preferably at a familiar archetypal archenemy outside of civilized society, like a terrorist, he said.
“As far as we can tell, this person might have been on the fringe, but he was still a member of society,” he said. “He wasn’t an ISIS terrorist, as far as we know, but we wanted it to be something real easy to hate so we could hate a bigger thing.”
Aposhian said he doesn’t want to be glib.
He has a decal on his truck that spells out “love” using ammunition. Before visiting Las Vegas this week, he covered it with tape.
“There are gun folks and there are regular folks that don’t want to see that right now,” he said.