Waking up this past Monday morning, I grabbed my smart phone and toyed around on Facebook for a hot minute before heading to the newsroom. And on the Facebook stream was post after post about the mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas that occurred while all of us were asleep on the East Coast.
“Good god,” I mumbled under my breath, my girlfriend turning over and asking what was wrong. A flood of sentiments, feelings, and images, filled my mind. Dozens senselessly murdered, while hundreds more were wounded, tens of thousands forever carrying with them the emotional wounds of a one-time dream experience immediately turned into a bloody nightmare.
Now, am I for or against guns? Well, I’m all for the Second Amendment. But, I’m also for accountability. Increase the background checks. You get your gun, society can sleep a little better at night, hopefully. And yet, really, none of that matters, especially when you consider stolen weapons, or folks who finally snap after seemingly decades of quiet behavior, where you always see the news clip from a neighbor, “He was such a nice guy. Never expected this from him.”
When I read how the Vegas shooter was pulling the trigger from a nearby hotel room, high above the Jason Aldean concert, I thought of the University of Texas tower shooting. In 1966, Charles Whitman, a former Marine sharpshooter, opened fire from a tower on the Austin campus, killing 15 people and wounding another 31. At that time, it shook the nation and the world. How could someone carry out such a violent act in such a safe environment, meant for learning, connecting with others and positive human interaction?
For me, as a longtime music writer — and also a journalist in general — seeing this massacre occur at a live music performance is just devastating. Music, especially when seen/heard live, is meant to be an escape from the chaos and confusion of the outside world. That sense of connection between friends and strangers alike, amid the melodic beauty of bands and singers we adore, is supposedly to be the few moments or hours within your daily life that you are part of something bigger than yourself, something where you and others around you, are able to rise above the disagreements, the hate and aggression, the panic and sadness running rampant in our society.
So, here again, fear wins. Bloodshed spills across the once-safe grounds of innocence and happiness. I myself can even say how much these thoughts of “what if?” linger in my head as I routinely attend and cover music festivals, sporting events, and large gatherings of all shapes and sizes. There have been times, very few and fleeting moments, where I’m standing in these huge crowds, or backstage looking out on a sea of people, wondering if “this is the night” something bad happens.
And it’s no wonder I, and probably everyone around me, have those sentiments way in the back of our heads. After the shooting at the Charlie Hebdo magazine headquarters and the Eagles of Death Metal concert massacre at the Bataclan Theatre (both in Paris, in 2015), I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t crossed my mind how easily it could happen in our newsroom or at a local show, where the right elements and intents combine into a source of pure evil.
The officials and promoters in Vegas did everything right to ensure the safety of their attendees. But, how do you stop the unstoppable? How do you prevent tragedy that originates outside the security perimeters? It’s pretty much impossible, but it isn’t hopeless. I try to think of the steps and crossroads that led an individual to decide to commit such horrific acts. What went wrong? What could have been said or noticed that could have put out these flames of hate and anger before they set fire to the mindset of an entire city, and also the national dialogue?
We may never know the motives of the Vegas shooter, or we may find out in the coming days. Regardless, countless more folks are now dead or wounded in the name of whatever it was that provoked this shooter in the first place. But, what remains is more questions than answers. We all know the numerous solutions out there — more mental health awareness, more “say something if you see something,” etc. — though the outcome tends to always be the same: more bloodshed. What are we doing wrong? But, also, what are we doing right, and how can we do more of that good, day-in-and-day-out?
Take a step back, and hug a loved one, or a stranger alike today, and everyday thereafter. We are all one. This ain't being hokey or cheesy. We are human. We laugh and cry, and reach out for help, all the same. Reach out. Be present. Love, and be loved.