On the Monday afternoon in the immediate aftermath of the worst mass shooting in modern US history, I looked out of my plane window and stared at the two broken hotel windows on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. My flight was landing at Las Vegas’s McCarran International Airport, adjacent to the “killing field,” where the night before a lone gunman inexplicably gunned down 58 innocent lives and injured some 500 more.
Having served as an officer in the US military, I recognized that the casualties inflicted upon a crowd of country music fans was roughly the equivalent of a US military battalion.
To put this into perspective: In the bloodiest campaign in the Iraq War, the Battle of Falluja, which spanned November 7 to December 24, 2004, there were 82 combat deaths and some 600 wounded.
One gunman in Las Vegas, armed with an arsenal of 23 guns — several of which were semi-automatic, high-powered rifles — was able to nearly replicate the US losses in Falluja. And he did so having acquired 33 of his 47 legally owned weapons in the last year alone.
The shooter also spent nearly a week at the Mandalay Bay. He used this time to scope out the venue he’d selected for the slaughter, while calculating trajectories and distance on pieces of paper recovered from his hotel suite.
The police and MGM Resorts — which owns the Mandalay Bay properties — have released conflicting reports related to the timeline of events, causing some to question if the police acted appropriately. An accurate chronology is necessary to assess how best to modify and improve police response.
But the biggest question remains the shooter’s motive. Was there something — anything — that law enforcement missed in the days, months or years leading up to the tragedy? Typically, in the wake of a mass shooting, the killer’s motive becomes crystalline — they leave behind a written manifesto in the form of a suicide note, or an investigation into the “digital exhaust” they have on their electronic devices turns up a telling social media screed.
Someone, somewhere usually remembers the killer’s voiced grievance(s) against a person or group, and then follows a predictable “trigger event.” Yet in Las Vegas, nothing seems to make sense. The killer and his actions defy logic. And maybe that’s the problem: We are attempting to attach normality to a depraved murderer.
However, law enforcement must learn from every tragedy so it can better prepare for a similar attack.
But where to start? First, we must acknowledge that in a country that prides itself on its freedoms and civil liberties, we can never expect the type of security that a police state would afford. And for many Americans, the Second Amendment is a necessary and concomitant protection against a real (or perceived) threat from their own government.
Given that we don’t care to enforce martial law or strip every home of its firearms, what can we do to protect our citizens?
1) Increasing hotel security
9/11 forever changed how we screen passengers at airports. We have accepted the “new normal,” which requires us to arrive two to three hours before our scheduled departures to pass through enhanced security. We remove our shoes and belts as we proceed through TSA screening, and we accept limits on the size of liquids we can possess in our carry-on baggage.
This type of baggage screening needs to be introduced to the hotel industry. Perhaps hotel guests balk at this additional and mildly time-consuming endeavor at check-in. But these screenings are routine in other countries that face the threat of terrorism. For example, the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai installed metal detectors and X-ray machines after the terror attacks in November 2008.
2) Enhancing window protections
We could also consider a federal requirement that all windows with a view of pedestrian congregation areas meet a certain thickness specification. No glass can ever be entirely bulletproof, but we could make it harder for someone bent on using a hotel room as a sniper’s perch to commence deadly plans. In the business of saving lives, time is everything. So the more difficult we make it for the assailant to have an unobstructed view of his potential prey, the more lives could ostensibly be saved.
3) Learning from past shootings
We must also continue to study and learn from every active shooter incident, dating back to the 1966 University of Texas Tower shooter, Charles Whitman, whose murderous actions precipitated the development of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams across the country.
It is an unfortunate truism that future mass killers study and learn from previous incidents. We must be forward leaning and endeavor to better forecast the next potential scenario hatched in the mind of a depraved sociopath, as well as continue to teach first responders the most effective interdiction methods. The FBI has attempted to do this by providing “active shooter training” to law enforcement units across the country and with the release of a slickly produced training video, “The Coming Storm,” in December 2015.
4) Not ‘demilitarizing’ the police
In the wake of riots and protests in American cities like Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, there is a reflexive response to the necessary police presence in the midst of violence and destruction of property. No community wants to perceive its police as an occupying army. But police need to be protected while they run toward the sounds of guns. If surplus military equipment saves one cop’s life, it is worth the endeavor.
The uncomfortable imagery of police as commandos during the Ferguson protests is exactly why the Obama administration sought to limit the amount and type of equipment made available to police departments across the nation — a move that has since been undone by the Trump administration.
And the militarization of police departments is an issue that certainly deserves debate. No police unit has any need for fragmentation grenades, flamethrowers or tanks. But armored personnel carriers, body armor, ballistic shields and some sniper gear can be useful in mass shootings.
To do nothing in the wake of this great tragedy is unacceptable. As we grieve for the victims and the loved ones they leave behind, we must take the words of John Philpot Curran, an 18th century Irish politician and lawyer, to heart: “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance.”