When an act of evil on the scale of the Mandalay Bay massacre happens, the first impulse (immediately following politicians and advocates attempting to benefit) is to try to divine the killer’s purpose. Sometimes the reason is terrorism (Ft. Hood, San Bernardino, Orlando). Sometimes it’s madness (Gabby Giffords, Sandy Hook, Aurora). But in the week since Stephen Paddock killed more than 50 and injured 500, no clear motive has yet been determined.
It’s certainly still early in the investigation. Paddock didn’t leave a note and had an atypically small social media footprint. So the lack of a clear reason so far for what he did hasn’t stopped — and may even be fueling even more — speculation about what prompted him to commit carefully premeditated mass murder.
We’ve heard blame placed on everything from America’s gun culture, toxic masculinity and white privilege to President Trump and, yes, Islamic terrorism.
Do some of those seem like a stretch? Attempts to bend a horrific event to fit a certain political narrative? You betcha.
But hold onto your hats, because without an easy answer to explain Paddock’s murder spree, just as after the Kennedy assassination, all kinds of, um, interesting theories are cropping up to fill the vacuum.
Conservative commentator Mark Steyn — no tin foil hat wearer, he — notes one theory proposed by “a gentleman at a London think tank whose job is to focus on ‘the analysis of economic and political issues and outcomes.'” You can read the entire thing here. But to sum it up, Steyn’s correspondent is proposing that Paddock did what he did — carefully planned his attack, opened fire on 20,000 people and then committed suicide — in order “to telegraph to America in graphic form the hard irrefutable evidence that guns and gun ownership and the ease of gun purchase in America are an evil and must be controlled.”
First – While killing a very large number of innocent people is an horrendous crime it is nonetheless entirely justifiable – in moral terms – if it causes a restriction on guns. Because such a restriction would – it is widely held – save innumerable lives in the long run. There is no evidence for this but it is still a widely and passionately held belief.
Second – Since the people he is shooting are actively or passively defenders of guns and an obstacle to gun control they are by definition responsible in part for all the people who have been and continue to be killed by guns.
According to this, Paddock wasn’t a religious zealot and he wasn’t crazy. He was just the most radical gun control advocate…ever.
Steyn expresses the requisite skepticism.
So our London analyst is arguing that this was an act of mass murder to protest the ease with which Americans can commit mass murder. I’m reminded of the entirely idiotic Liam Neeson movie from a year or two back, Non-Stop, in which he battles terrorists who’ve hijacked a plane to protest the ease with which terrorists can hijack a plane. At the key moment in the bad-guy monologue, my kids and I burst out laughing. But presumably Universal Pictures found it credible enough to greenlight the project – and, as I recall, most people in the movie theater seemed to be taking it seriously.
At one level, it’s a ludicrous explanation – and yet it has the ruthless logic of a psychopath, of a man who, like a good screenwriter, subordinates all other considerations to the internal logic of an absurd proposition. It’s also a rare explanation that explains everything: the guns in the hotel, the explosive material in the car, the guns in his house, and in his other house, and doubtless in his other other house. To reprise my reader’s joke: He was smuggling suitcases.
Make of all that what you will. And if you think that theory is crazy, there are a lot more where that one came from.
But the larger question remains…given the amount of preparation and planning that went into this atrocity and what we know (or don’t) about him, what’s the likely reason for what Stephen Paddock did?