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Las Vegas mass shooting reignites U.S. debate over gun control

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with first responders at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department on Oct. 4, 2017.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

For Gary and Lisa Grant, a visit to the site of the Las Vegas shootings on Wednesday cut close to home.

Gary is a singer in a Boston cover band that regularly plays on New Year's Eve on the Las Vegas Strip, a large outdoor concert much like the one where 58 people died and nearly 500 were injured in a hail of gunfire on Sunday night.

Lisa was waiting for an update on her co-worker at a hospital in Mesa, Ariz., who was shot in the temple and remains in critical condition.

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But as they stood across the street from the site of the Route 91 Harvest country music festival on Wednesday, where they had come to pay their respects to the victims, both were adamant that gun control is not the answer to prevent another mass shooting.

"A gun doesn't get up and shoot itself," Ms. Grant said. "A person operates it, just like a car. I just think they're barking up the wrong tree with gun control."

Even as police and the public search for answers, the attack in Las Vegas has a reignited the bitter political debate over gun control in the United States.

Investigators are still trying to understand why Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old wealthy retiree, would want to kill so many, along with himself. Or how he was able to assemble, unnoticed, an arsenal of 23 weapons in his hotel room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, leave a car packed with explosives and ammunition in the hotel parking lot, and go on a shooting spree for about 10 minutes.

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Mr. Paddock was able to legally obtain a device known as a "bump stock," which enables a semi-automatic rifle to fire like an automatic weapon, to carry out his attack. Several Republican legislators are showing tentative interest in restrictions on the device.

Marilou Danley, Mr. Paddock's girlfriend, issued a statement on Wednesday after being questioned by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Los Angeles, saying Mr. Paddock never gave any indication he was planning such a deadly attack. Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo called Mr. Paddock a "disturbed and dangerous" man who had spent decades acquiring guns and ammunition, although much of his life is shrouded in mystery.

There was no evidence at this point to indicate that the mass shooting was terrorism, an FBI agent told a news conference on Wednesday.

In a visit to Las Vegas on Wednesday to meet with victims of the shooting and first responders, U.S. President Donald Trump avoided any political discussion about measures to curb gun violence. "We're not going to talk about that today," he told reporters at University Medical Center, where many of the patients most seriously injured in the shooting were being treated.

However, in Las Vegas, where tourists from across the country gathered to mourn, pray and cry in front of memorials that lined the downtown strip, the tragedy seems to have only hardened opinions on gun control.

"The bottom line is if someone is determined to kill people, there's nothing you can to do stop them," Mr. Grant said, adding that he would not hesitate to play another crowded outdoor concert in Las Vegas.

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Janice and Steve Feldberg have seen their share of gun violence in their home city of Chicago, and witnessed the aftermath of the shooting while under lockdown on Sunday night at the New York New York Hotel and Casino. But the way Mr. Feldberg sees it, too much is at stake – too many powerful interests, too much money, too many divided opinions – to reopen the debate over gun control. "I understand the risks that come with that statement," he said. "But I just don't see a process that can change the tide of momentum where we're at in this country."

On his first trip to Las Vegas, Tennessee school teacher David Clark took a stroll down Las Vegas Boulevard on Sunday night, stopping in front of the Mandalay Bay to take a photo of the night skyline less than an hour before the shooting started.

He heard the gunfire from his room at the Tropicana Las Vegas hotel and casino, which looks out over the concert grounds, and saw the shell shocked festival-goers who had run into the hotel for cover. On Monday, after the hotel had ended its lockdown, Mr. Clark and his fiancé waited seven hours to give blood at one of the several donor clinics around the city.

The shooting has made Mr. Clark think limits are needed on the number of guns a person can own and how much ammunition they can buy at one time. He knows it might be an unpopular opinion, including among some of his friends in Murfreesboro Ten., who are hunters and proud gun owners.

"It's a competition thing in society, about how much you have, or how much you don't have. These are my rights," he said. "But you don't have a right to go out and do terrible things to people either."

A high school physical-education teacher for 26 years, Mr. Clark worries that people are becoming too strident in their opinions. He has seen that firsthand in his school, among a generation of students he says have never been taught the value of compromise and deference to authority. He worries the same issues are playing out on a grand scale across the country making it difficult for Americans to set aside their differences to solve the epidemic of gun violence, even after the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

"I'm guilty of it too. I'm old school black-and-white about how things are," he said. "But you can't be like that any more. You've got to listen to other people's opinions and try to respect them. We're going to have to all give in a little bit. We're going to have to change."

With a report from Reuters

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About the Author
U.S. Correspondent

Tamsin McMahon is a U.S correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in California. She previously covered real estate for The Globe. Prior to joining the paper in January 2015, she worked at Maclean’s magazine covering business and the economy, where she was nominated for two National Magazine Awards. More

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