The Las Vegas Strip was the scene of the latest horrific mass shooting in America Sunday night. The weapons used to commit the senseless act of violence has been recovered by local law enforcement, which means the country could get some much needed answers about how this shooting came to happen. Regardless, it could take a long time to find out if the guns used in the Las Vegas shooting were obtained illegally — partly because there were so many of them.
Nearly 60 people have been confirmed dead and more than 500 injured from the peaceful crowd that had gathered for a country music festival Sunday. According to Las Vegas sheriff Joseph Lombardo, the shooter had more than 10 rifles in the hotel room from which he shot hundreds of victims. Police haven't released many details from the shooting yet, so there's no way to know for sure if the guns were obtained legally. The New York Times reported that one of the weapons used may have been a fully automated rifle, based on what the gun shots sounded like in audio recordings of the shooting. If it was a machine gun and it was manufactured after 1986 or improperly registered, owning it would be illegal under federal law. However, the weapon may also have been modified by hand to fire faster.
Survivors of the shooting describe a terrifying scene of gunfire that didn't appear to have a source. The attacker broke through the window of his room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel to shoot at the crowd, so people weren't even sure of a direction to run for safety. Some of the injuries weren't even caused by gunfire, but by the sheer volume of people stampeding, trying to find shelter from the rainfall of bullets.
“I turned around and I looked and people just started running,” eyewitness Michelle Leonard told ABC News after the shooting. "People were just running and falling and screaming," she said. "I had no idea of where it was coming from or where to run to."
Alfonso Ewing is a cook at a White Castle more than two miles away from the Mandalay Bay, but he told The Los Angeles Times that he and his customers still took shelter just in case.
"We heard reports of gunshots and customers rushed to jump the counter for safety. Everyone just took off running from the White Castle and the hotel," Ewing told The Times. "Employees and customers went downstairs to hide in the break room. We're here now, 15 of us, with customers. We're safe but we don't know what's happening."
Finding out whether the guns were obtained legally or illegally isn't likely to matter at this point from a criminal standpoint. The shooter is dead of apparent suicide, and his girlfriend was cleared of suspicion after police confirmed that she isn't in the country right now. Unless someone else helped the shooter obtain the guns, there's no meaningful legal recourse to take.
But the legality of the guns certainly will shape and inform the raging online debate surrounding the shooting. Gun control advocates and opponents both hopped online in massive numbers Monday to defend their policy positions — the stalemate occurs because both sides have done this so many times that they can spin the legality as a determining factor or a non-issue on a case-by-base basis.
Whether the guns were obtained legally or illegally doesn't change the real underlying problem that cause gun violence. Investigating this case as part of a pattern, not just an isolated incident, is key to making sure that it never happens again.