Thursday October 05, 2017

'It will only get worse': Nevada senator laments lack of will for gun control after Las Vegas shooting

Briana Calderon, centre, and Cinthya Olbera pray at a makeshift memorial on the Las Vegas Strip on Oct. 3, after a gunman killed 59 people and wounded more than 500 others when he opened fire from the Mandalay Hotel on a country music festival.

Briana Calderon, centre, and Cinthya Olbera pray at a makeshift memorial on the Las Vegas Strip on Oct. 3, after a gunman killed 59 people and wounded more than 500 others when he opened fire from the Mandalay Hotel on a country music festival. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

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Thoughts and prayers have been plentiful. But in the wake of the massacre in Las Vegas, many U.S. politicians have been avoiding two words that some feel could prevent another shooting: gun control.

It's especially true in Nevada, a state with some of the least restrictive gun ownership laws in the country — now the home of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Yvanna Cancela is a Nevada state senator whose district includes the part of the Las Vegas strip where the shooting happened — and has called for changes to the state's gun laws. Here is an excerpt of her conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.

Senator Cancela, how did you react when you learned that the Las Vegas shooter had amassed 23 guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in his hotel room?

Yvanna Cancela

Nevada state senator Yvanna Cancela has called for changes to the state's gun laws. (@YvannaCancela/Twitter)

My initial reaction — which is something that I'm pretty ashamed of, but I think speaks to where we are at with gun violence in this country — was that this was just another shooting, that it would be contained, and there would probably be three to six injured and maybe a death or two.

And I feel so awful admitting to that. Once I learned the final count was 23 guns in the room, I really asked myself how anyone is able to purchase that amount of lethal weapons and how he got them into the room.

Why are people in Nevada so opposed to having any restrictions on their guns?

That's not completely accurate. People in Nevada voted, last election cycle, overwhelmingly to put into place what I think is a common sense reform, which is universal background checks on guns sales. And unfortunately, our attorney general has decided to block implementation of that law.

But even that would be just private sales, right?

That's right. Gun shows and gun stores would be covered by the initiative, but private transactions [would not]. We cannot prevent someone to sell a gun to their neighbour without a background check.

"[The NRA] have instilled deep fear in any politician who is unwilling to follow their agenda." - Nevada State Sen. Yvanna Cancela

Why not a ban on assault rifles that come with high capacity magazines — things that people point to as being useless for hunting? These are things that kill humans. Why can't you get a ban on those?

Well that would take the federal government intervening on this ... and there's total gridlock, and there's not been the desire to change the rules around what kinds of guns people can have.

I think it's really shameful that, particularly Republicans in Congress, have not taken the initiative to at least have a conversation about whether or not that's a good idea, and any time the conversation around gun control ... gets started, they seem to just cower in a corner and refuse any sort of conversation.

After something like this, or after something like Sandy Hook, where you have 20 little kids who are mowed down, why can't you change laws in your country? It's something we just can't fathom outside of the United States.

I wish I had a good, multi-factored analysis, but really, what I think is the best answer is there are a lot of politicians in this country who feel beholden to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its members. And they, as a lobbying group, have instilled deep fear in any politician who is unwilling to follow their agenda, which virtually says you cannot touch anything on guns becasue you're then treading on second-amendment rights.

LASVEGAS-SHOOTING/

A sign advertising a gun show is seen on the Las Vegas Strip in front of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Oct. 3. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

I think it's going to take a lot of organizing and a deep political movement in this country to counter that kind of both financial power, and also policy power that they've developed over the last few decades.

Is it really just the NRA that prevents the laws from being changed?

I think the NRA is part of what is now a deep ideological divide in this country ... It certainly falls into the category of a wedge issue, because it seems people are unwilling to talk about even the basics of gun control. I think it's a legitimate question to ask why someone would want to own an AK-47, and I don't think "just because" is a good enough answer. "Just because I can" doesn't mean you should.

NRA Trump

Congressman John Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia, gestures while addressing a crowd at a rally protesting the National Rifle Association's annual convention in Atlanta. Democratic lawmakers are calling for stricter gun control measures after the massacre in Las Vegas. (David Goldman/Associated Press)

Do you think people in the United States have become almost inoculated to this type of violence?

I do. If we can watch children die in a classroom in Connecticut and not take action, how do we redeem ourselves after that? The statistics show that every day there is what qualifies as a mass shooting —four or more people dying. And I'm really ashamed to say I feel a part of that numbness to gun violence.

I feel a sense of urgency to do something, and I hope that that spreads to most people, because we really cannot continue to allow this to happen and grow, because it will get worse. We thought Orlando was the worst shooting in this country's history, and then this happened this weekend. It will only get worse.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Yvanna Cancela.