Authorities and interest groups have put on a master class demonstrating how to bamboozle the media and whitewash unpleasant facts in the aftermath of the Las Vegas mass shooting.
As all of you know, during the evening of October 1, a gunman named Stephen Paddock killed 58 and injured 546 people who were attending a country music concert. Paddock fired from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay, a casino hotel owned by MGM Resorts International.
There is a standard public relations strategy that uses delay to obfuscate news stories. Find an excuse to withhold information, and then let it out little-by-little over a long period of time. Say information is being—or will be—released, but never let out enough to generate a news story. After enough time, everyone has forgotten what it’s all about.
That’s what’s happened in Vegas.
(1) What are the murder weapons?
The day after the massacre (Oct. 2), police said 23 guns were found in the murderer’s hotel suite and another 24 at his two homes. No makes or models were disclosed.
The following day (Oct. 3), police slipped pictures of two guns to a Fox News reporter, both of which appear to be versions of the AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle. (The AR-15 is the same as the U.S. military’s M-16 but with automatic fire blocked. In combat, our military usually fires in semiauto mode anyway.) Late that evening, the Sheriff’s office and the federal ATF announced at a press conference that 12 weapons had bump-stocks. There’s been no accounting since.
This is absurd. For more than a month, police have known the manufacturers, models and calibers of all 47 guns. What are they? Which ones were the murder weapons? How much ammunition was used, and of which types? What other military devices or gun accessories were found? Where did he obtain the assault weapons? Answers to these questions are important in order to have a fact-based discussion about gun policy. (Based on what little has been released, New York has already enacted legislation to ban bump stocks.)
Law enforcement nearly always discloses the make and model of the weapons used in mass shootings within a few days of the massacre. In the case of the recent Texas church shooting (26 dead, 20 wounded), the manufacturer and type were disclosed on the same day (a Ruger version of the AR-15).
There is absolutely no legitimate law enforcement reason for keeping the guns a secret. The only logical reason for doing so is that disclosure would tend to embarrass the gun lobby and provide justification for limits on assault weapons. It’s for the NRA.
(2) What was the most likely motive?
Shortly after the massacre, police said that they had no sign of a motive that might have driven the murders. “I can’t get into the mind of a psychopath at this point,” Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said.
Yes, he could.
Las Vegas casinos keep very exact records of customers’ gambling. In this case, the murderer used a card that tells the casino exactly where, when and how he gambled, bet-by-bet. So police knew the day of the shooting, or perhaps the following day, that this murderer had lost tremendous amounts of money over the past two years.
There is no rational reason for a mass murder of strangers, and no one can know what was in the mind of a dead man, but the only reasonable assumption is that he was enraged about his gambling losses, his obvious gambling addiction and—this is common among addicts—at the casinos that were squeezing money out of him.
This is what the casinos don’t want anyone to talk about. (A big reason why MGM hired an expensive crisis management PR firm.) The murderer had all the indications of a pathological gambler, meaning that he could not stop himself. (See the Report of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission.) The New York Times, New York Magazine and the New York Post all chronicled his style of gambling which is typical of addiction.
Let’s be clear: he was not a “professional” gambler. We have known from the beginning that he played, almost exclusively, video poker. You can make a living playing poker against other people, but you cannot when playing a machine. The computer inside the video poker machine is programmed to make sure the player loses, albeit very slowly.
Authorities in Las Vegas knew this guy’s “motive” for a month, and didn’t tell anyone. Then on November 1, the Sheriff sat for a TV interview where he finally admitted that the murderer had lost “a significant amount of wealth” since September 2015 and that may have been “a determining factor on why he decided to do what he did.” That’s outrageously vague.
How much did he lose, when and where? What are the various tactics that the casinos used to keep him gambling? In short, what did the casinos know and when did they know it? Again, there is no legitimate law enforcement reason for this secrecy. Again, the only logical reason is that disclosure would tend to embarrass the casino industry and provide justification for investigation into their practices.
They say “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” But that should not apply to the deadliest mass shooting in American history. The 604 victims and their families deserve better.