Derrick Z. Jackson

It’s not madness, terrorism, or ‘evil’ that’s killing people — it’s guns

Investigators load a truck with bodies from the scene of the mass shooting at a music festival near the Mandalay Bay resort and casino in Las Vegas on Monday.
Investigators load a truck with bodies from the scene of the mass shooting at a music festival near the Mandalay Bay resort and casino in Las Vegas on Monday.Chris Carlson/AP Photo

It was the deadliest mass shooting in modern times, and yet denial of America’s self-inflicted carnage riddled the news. Virtually every newspaper, radio and television outlet obligatorily reported the assumption, in almost identical language, that law enforcement officials believed Stephen Paddock was no assassin from abroad. As a banner read across the bottom of Monday’s CNN’s coverage: “Police: No known link between gunman & any foreign terror group.”

Like this is supposed to make us feel better? The National Rifle Association and its supplicants in Congress and in state houses surely hope so, because history clearly says that gun violence not officially tied to “terror” is of no concern.


For so-called international terrorism, we get the longest-standing wars in American history, since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, sacrificing thousands of American soldiers. We got intricate global databases and normalized in our daily lives the herding of millions of people through x-ray scanners, past body wands in football stadiums and security turnstiles in office buildings. In the name of security, too many politicians and Americans demonize millions of people solely on religion and dress, most recently symbolized by President Trump’s travel bans clearly targeted at Muslims.

Yet for American gun terrorism that has taken out about 500,000 Americans since 9/11 from suicide and homicide, we get a feckless Congress that has done nothing, allowing the United States to cement its status as the most violent nation in the developed world. We have had no serious improvement of background checks or gun tracing, despite Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Aurora, San Bernadino, the Washington Navy Yard, Orlando, Umpqua Community College, and the Charleston churchgoers. Even the mass killings of Dallas police and the shootings of members of Congress — Gabby Giffords and Steve Scalise — have not moved Capitol Hill. It remains harder in too many states to get a drivers license than a gun permit.


Tragically, there are no early signs that Paddock’s massacre in Las Vegas that left at least 58 people dead and more than 500 injured is the tipping point toward sanity. Instead, the narrative is already spinning away from Paddock’s access to guns toward a singular demonization. President Trump called the shooting an “act of pure evil.” Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said Paddock was a “crazed lunatic full of hate.” He was repeatedly described by law enforcement as a “lone wolf” and a “sole actor.”

No, Paddock is now the leading actor in America’s proliferation of guns. A singular man armed with a mere knife cannot take out nearly 60 people and slash 500 more. Yet Trump said nothing about guns. While several Democrats, including Massachusetts congressman Seth Moulton, are saying this is a time once again to talk about guns, the national response thus far by Republicans is too offer mere prayers in place of policy.

If the Las Vegas massacre does not break this stasis, then the gruesome question must be asked. What is America waiting for? A man who kills 100 people and wounds 1,000 at the next concert? When will it cease to matter whether a madman is a Muslim terrorist a disgruntled white man, a kid of color in poverty, a depressed senior, a bullied teenager, or anyone else, who for whatever reason, is driven to pick up a gun and end the lives of others and themselves?


In his short address to the nation on the shooting, President Trump said, “We pray for the day when evil is banished.” My prayer is for the day when the United States moves toward making sure that evil cannot kill so many people, with one pull of the trigger.

Derrick Z. Jackson is a Globe contributing columnist. He can be reached at jackson@globe.com.