In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, prominent figures from politics, media and elsewhere have taken aim at the gun lobby for its role in obstructing moves toward tighter gun control legislation.
Former ESPN and MSNBC host Keith Olbermann called the National Rifle Association, or NRA, a “terrorist organization” for “enabling such massacres.” Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, urged the American people and politicians to “stand up to the NRA, and work together to try to stop this from happening again." Jimmy Kimmel, in a late night monologue, said lawmakers “won’t do anything about this because the NRA has their balls in a money clip."
But how has the gun lobby reacted to the attack? Barely at all, is the answer. The NRA, the most powerful lobby group in the U.S., has slunk into the shadows following the extremist attack that left 59 people dead, more than 500 injured when gunman Stephen Paddock, armed with 23 guns in his hotel room on the 32nd floor, opened fire on concertgoers below.
The lobby group is led by a president Wayne LaPierre who concocted the term “good guy with a gun,” which means that the “only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun” is someone else with a gun standing up to him. But armed police could not get to the shooter, armed with an arsenal large enough for a small militia, for more than an hour.
One prominent gun lobbyist, Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America (GOA) said in a statement that “it is disturbing to see anti-gun politicians and celebrities politicizing the tragedy by calling for further restrictions on guns.”
He went on to defend the Second Amendment and the use of automatic weapons for self-defense. “We cannot blame gun owners, the gun itself, or the liberties protected in the Second Amendment for how evil people abuse that freedom,” he said. “The vast majority of gun owners handle their firearms responsibly. Guns are used up to 100 times more often to save a life than take life. Even so-called ‘assault weapons’ are used in self-defense.”
But, the Virginia-based NRA, the main gun lobby, has resorted to silence. Its social media pages and website, littered with positive news about the benefits of gun ownership, last posted on September 29, the day before the attack. The group did the same, not speaking for days, after the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, when a gunman killed 26 people—20 of them children—at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. It is a public relations strategy of be quiet and say nothing until the dust settles.
The reasons the NRA gave for an event such as Sandy Hook were not a lack of gun control, but factors such as no armed guards at elementary schools, and the prevalence of rap music in American society. It has followed similar protocols for the majority of mass shootings since that atrocity almost five years ago.
"They’re trying to figure out what happened," Richard Feldman, former lobbyist for the NRA and author of Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist, told Politico. They want to "learn what we can about the shooter” before speaking, he added.
But there appeared to be little religious motivation for the retired accountant to carry out the assault, despite the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) claiming responsibility for the attack. His family said he had never drawn one of his guns and had no overt religious beliefs, and the FBI said it had found “no connection” to an international terrorist organization.
Two gun shops have said that Paddock passed all required gun checks. He had no previous criminal record and passed his backgrounds checks, allowing him to buy the weapons he needed to carry out the assault.
As police continue to search for a motive, it remains unknown what factors the NRA will induce on this occasion to rail against calls for greater gun control, given that Paddock was 32 floors above his victims, locked in a room with 23 guns, and shot indiscriminately from his perch, causing mass confusion about his exact location.
The concert below, the Route 91 Festival, had stopped visitors bringing in guns with them, and even if they had them, they would have been unable to defend against Paddock’s hail of bullets. There was no “good guy with a gun” to stop the “bad guy” in Las Vegas on Sunday night.