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No, the Las Vegas attack wasn't a 'new normal':
James Alan Fox, Opinion columnist Published 7:40 p.m. ET Oct. 2, 2017
What is horribly normal are the dozens killed by guns every day in far less
What makes Sunday night's mass shooting at a Las
Vegas music festival especially stunning is that, unlike the recent deadly
storms striking Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, this threat came without
warning, not even to the gunman's own brother.
Struggling to make sense
of a seemingly senseless tragedy, on-air anchors and their studio guests
tried to fill time with speculation, hyperbole and sound that did little
more than intensify the massacre's impact.
Early on, we were assured that
there was no apparent connection to terrorism that this involved a "0lone
wolf" assailant. Of course, the overwhelming majority of mass shootings have
nothing to with "Islamic extremism," as President Trump likes to call it.
However, invoking the "T" word (even to rule out a terrorism link) does
little more than empower our enemies. They don't even have to lift a trigger
finger to stoke our fears.
The Las Vegas shooting is hardly
unprecedented. Fifty-one years ago, for example, a sniper at the University
of Texas-Austin similarly targeted innocent people from a porch high above
his chosen killing field until first responders arrived to overtake him.
The Las Vegas attacker killed more victims, but perhaps it is
communication technology that hit us with more force than his bullets. A
half-century ago, Americans heard about events in Texas only through news
bulletins and eventually rough footage once the film was available. With
smartphones in everyone's pockets and purses, we are able to hear and see
such events as they unfold.
Just how many times must we be
mistreated with the recorded "rat tat tat" of gunfire? Sure, this instance
is different in that the gunman might have had access to a fully automatic
weapon capable of streaming bullets with the single squeeze of the trigger.
But anyone who has ever watched a war movie or an episode of The
Untouchables can recognize the sound. Hearing it over and over only deepens
And how many times must we be reminded that this was the
largest mass shooting in modern American history? A CNN anchor pointed out
that the Pulse nightclub shooting spree was the largest until now.
before Guinness published its first edition chronicling world record
achievements in virtually every walk of life and death, Americans have been
obsessed with being on top whether for the good, the bad or the deadly. It
seems that events and accomplishments, from the trivial to the tragic, take
on special significance if they can somehow be cast as the best or the worse
of their kind.
Leaving aside the fact that there have been larger
mass casualty attacks involving bombs (the Oklahoma City bombing), arson
(New York's Happy Land fire) or airplanes (9/11), does it really matter?
Would the Las Vegas shooting be any less tragic if it were not a record? Is
it relevant to those who have lost a loved one if their son or daughter
perished in a record-setting event?
And with every record, there must
be the proud record holder. CNN's Anderson Cooper as well as many other
pundits and professors of criminology have argued for a moratorium on
identifying the name of a mass murderer or showing his or her likeness on
air. Not only does it potentially inspire others to use a weapon to claim
their quarter-hour of fame, but it truly adds insult to injury for those who
suffer the loss most personally. If the national attention of mass murder
can be alluring, imagine the draw of being a record setter. After all,
records are there to be broken.
Former New York City and Los Angeles
police commissioner Bill Bratton described the situation as the "new
normal," borrowing words Barack Obama used but explicitly rejected as a
characterization for similar events during his administration. Leaving aside
the fact that a record event can't possibly be "normal", mass murder hasn't
become a normal occurrence.
The number of mass shootings has not
increased, as evidenced by the USA TODAY database on mass killings as well
as other analyses. Dozens of Americans are killed and hundreds are shot on
every "normal" day in America. The Las Vegas shooting is an aberration.
James Alan Fox is the Lipman
Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern University
and a member of the USA TODAY Board of Contributors. He is co-author of
Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder. Follow him on