The Las Vegas gunman who carried out America’s deadliest mass shooting may have planned additional attacks including a car bombing, it was reported on Friday.
Stephen Paddock had 1,600 rounds of ammunition in his car as well as fertiliser that can be used to make explosives and 50 pounds of Tannerite, a substance used in explosive rifle targets. A law enforcement official told the Associated Press that Paddock bought 1,000 rounds of tracer ammunition, bullets containing a pyrotechnic charge that illuminates their path, a month ago from a private seller he met at a Phoenix gun show.
The 64-year-old strafed a crowd from his suite at the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas on Sunday night, killing 58 people and injuring nearly 500 at an outdoor country music festival. Paddock killed himself before police stormed his room.
In a press conference on Friday, authorities in Las Vegas said there was still no clear motive for the shooting and they were continuing to investigate whether anyone else was aware of Paddock’s plans. Undersheriff Kevin McMahill told reporters they were “very confident” there was not a second shooter.
A federal official told the AP authorities were examining whether Paddock intended to carry out further attacks. A note found there contained numbers and was not a manifesto or suicide note, police said.
Investigators were also examining the possibility that Paddock considered targeting other concerts or sporting events. He booked rooms overlooking the Lollapalooza festival in Chicago in August and Life Is Beautiful in Las Vegas late last month. On Friday, Boston police commissioner William Evans said the FBI told him agents found evidence that Paddock scouted sites in and around Fenway Park and the Boston Center for the Arts.
Las Vegas continues to mourn. On Thursday afternoon retired carpenter Greg Zanis, who had driven nearly 2,000 miles from the Chicago area, put up 58 white crosses on the Vegas strip – one for each each of the victims. That evening, thousands gathered to honour police officer Charleston Hartfield, an Iraq war veteran who died in the hail of gunfire.
Pressure for political action continued to grow. The National Rifle Association (NRA) – which fiercely opposed moves to tighten gun control laws after the June 2016 Orlando massacre and other mass shootings – backed congressional Republican leaders in a surprise endorsement of a minor gun restriction.
“Bump stocks”, devices that allow semi-automatic rifles to function more like fully automatic weapons, sometimes firing 400 to 800 rounds in a minute, were found in Paddock’s hotel room. The NRA said bump stocks should be “subject to additional regulations”.
This gave political cover to Donald Trump, a strong NRA ally. On Thursday night, a reporter asked if bump stocks should be banned. The president replied: “We’ll be looking into that over the next short period of time.”
Top Republicans expressed support. More than a dozen senators reportedly said they were open to the idea. The House speaker, Paul Ryan told reporters: “Obviously we need to look at how we can tighten up the compliance with this law so that fully automatic weapons are banned.”
But many gun control campaign groups regard the move against bump stocks as little more than a fig leaf. Robert Spitzer, chair of the political science department at SUNY Cortland, told the AP: “It’s a pretty small concession in the realm of gun stuff. We’re not talking about banning assault weapons here. It’s a very specific accessory.”
Even a ban on bump stocks is far from guaranteed, as past reactions to shootings have notoriously run out of steam amid political wrangling over details.
The NRA called for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to address bump stocks by regulation. Two Republicans, congressmen Adam Kinzinger and Mike Gallagher, are gathering signatures for a letter asking the bureau to take this path. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate judiciary committee, warned that this would leave a loophole and called for legislation rather than mere regulatory reform.
“As far as we know, the Las Vegas shooter passed background checks and legally purchased his weapons,” she said. “That means merely regulating bump stocks wouldn’t have necessarily prevented the gunman from outfitting his weapons as he did.
“Legislation would make crystal clear that Congress is banning all devices that allow a weapon to achieve an automatic rate of fire, regardless of how a weapon is altered. Such legislation can and will save lives, and Congress should act immediately.”
The issue of gun control is likely to loom over the 2018 midterm elections. This week, at least two Democrats donated equivalent amounts to prior contributions from the NRA to groups dedicated to gun violence prevention.
Tim Ryan, a representative from Ohio, split the equivalent of $20,000 between Everytown for Gun Safety, Americans for Responsible Solutions and Sandy Hook Promise. Tim Walz, a congressman running for governor in Minnesota, donated $18,950. Walz’s donation came after an opponent called on all gubernatorial candidates in Minnesota to give back campaign contributions from the NRA.
Gun control has emerged as a priority of the Democratic base. In the 2016 presidential primary, Hillary Clinton attacked Bernie Sanders for having been “a very reliable supporter of the NRA”, even though the Vermont senator held a D-minus rating from the group.
Democrats in red states have been criticised for not being sufficiently supportive of stricter gun laws. Among those facing tough re-election campaigns in 2018 is Heidi Heitkamp, a senator for North Dakota and one of just four Democrats who voted against universal background checks after the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting.
Walz accused critics of looking to “gain a political edge”. “I get it – that’s politics,” he said. “It’s also a distraction from the task at hand, which should be acting to stop tragedies like the attack that just took place in Las Vegas from happening again.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
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