Toronto

Las Vegas mass shooting is 'a tragic broken record,' U of T gun violence expert says

U of T professor says the U.S. has a 'frontier mentality,' which weakens U.S. gun control efforts

Ieva Lucs - CBC News

October 03, 2017

Flags are at half staff to honour those killed and injured in the Las Vegas mass shooting at the Washington Monument in Washington, U.S., October 3, 2017. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

An expert on gun violence at the University of Toronto is calling the latest mass shooting in the U.S. "a tragic broken record."

Jooyoung Lee, a sociology professor, says the deadliest massacre in modern American history is the direct result of that country's lax gun laws.

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"One of the things that we have to remember is that overwhelmingly people who buy guns to commit these mass atrocities are purchasing their firearms legally," Lee told CBC Toronto.

"They're not buying them from gun traffickers; they're not getting them on the streets; they're not stealing them — they're walking into stores, passing a background check and then using the firearms later to kill people."

In Las Vegas on Sunday, a gunman used fully automatic guns to rain down bullets on a crowd of over 20,000 concert goers enjoying an outdoor country music festival. He killed at least 59 people, four of whom were Canadians, and injured over 500 more.

Jooyoung Lee is a professor of sociology and expert in gun violence at the University of Toronto. (CBC)

"On one hand I'm very hopeful. I hope Congress and the GOP will see this event as a call to action," Lee told CBC Toronto.

"However, another part of me is also skeptical. There's a feeling amongst many different gun violence scholars and community activists that if the Sandy Hook massacre, in which 20 innocent white children were murdered in an idyllic middle class neighbourhood in Connecticut, if that won't lead to change, then nothing will."

A 'frontier mentality'

Lee says the U.S. has a "frontier mentality," which weakens U.S. gun control efforts.

"There's this belief that because there's an amendment written in an old constitution that grants people the right to bear arms, that this is an inalienable right and that the government should not impose on this," said Lee.

He believes the National Rifle Association (NRA) is selling citizens "pure fantasy" when they push their unofficial motto, often quoted by the NRA's executive vice president Wayne LaPierre: "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

In the case of the shooting in Las Vegas, Lee makes the point that the gunman had a large magazine capacity, something that is not regulated in Nevada.

"In a mass shooting, having a large magazine allows you to keep firing continuously without having to reload — which offers people a chance to escape or law enforcement to intervene."

'An insane amount of fire power'

Gun owners may not want to take out their weapons during a shooting, because police may suspect that person of being on the wrong side.

Caleb Keeter, a musician playing the Route 91 Harvest festival where the shooting took place, tweeted that his crew had guns but couldn't use them for this exact reason.

"We actually have members of our crew with ... legal firearms on the bus. They were useless. We couldn't touch them for fear the police might think we were part of the massacre and shoot us," the tweet read.

Caleb Keeter, a musician playing the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas, tweeted that his crew had guns but couldn’t use them during the mass shooting. (Twitter)

Keeter said he has been a proponent of the right to bear arms supposedly enshrined in the second amendment of the U.S. constitution, his entire life, but that this experience has changed his mind.

"A small group (or one man) laid waste to a city with dedicated, fearless police officers desperately trying to help, because of access to an insane amount of fire power," the tweet continued.

Lee says the tweet Keeter put out is important in shattering the story spun by the NRA — that a person can become the "action hero" of their own movie.

"The reality is shootings, mass shootings in particular, are much messier than that, and I think people are starting to realize that just having a gun on you doesn't make you safer," Lee said.

'There are checks and balances here'

Shari Akow, the acting president of the ONTarget: Rifle and Pistol Alliance of Ontario and a gun enthusiast, thinks Canada's gun laws are well thought out.

"In Canada we have a federally based laws ... There's a whole process in place. There are checks and balances here," Akow told CBC Toronto.

Shari Akow is a gun enthusiast and the acting president of ONTarget: Rifle and Pistol Alliance. (Paul Smith/CBC)

"We are just following the rules that we have and we're very happy to do that."

Akow says she's worried incidents like the carnage in Las Vegas could shine a bad light on shooting for sport.

"I think it's a tragedy of epic proportions, and it sullies the sport for recreational and competition shooters in our country," she said.

With files from Chris Glover
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