Before I begin, let me clearly state two things. First, as I note in the title of this post, my observations are based on early reports, and early reports are often wrong. Second, do not read this post as implying any sort of conspiracy theory of any kind. I’m merely noting the facts as we currently understand them — and how they differ from recent mass shootings.
As virtually everyone has noted from the abundant video footage of the incident, it certainly sounds as if the shooter used either fully-automatic weapons or semi-automatic weapons modified (through, for example, a bump fire stock) to closely simulate automatic fire. Moreover, the police are reporting that he had “more than 10 rifles.” He apparently rented his corner room for days and may have even set up cameras to detect when police were approaching. That’s all strange enough, but it’s even more unusual when you consider that his own family apparently didn’t know that he maintained a stockpile of guns. Here’s this, from the gunman’s brother, suggesting that the gunman wasn’t an avid gun guy at all:
“Not an avid gun guy at all…where the hell did he get automatic weapons? He has no military background,” gunman’s brother says pic.twitter.com/EMSKLQGYFM— CBS News (@CBSNews) October 2, 2017
Put all this together, and the shooting is flat-out bizarre. It’s significantly different from virtually any other mass shooting in U.S. history. If the weapons were fully automatic, then he likely would have spent immense sums of money to obtain them legally, jumping through extensive legal hoops. This twitter thread, from Stephen Gutowski, is very helpful:
Since this is coming up a lot, I want to give some insight into the regulation of fully-automatic firearms in the United States.— Stephen Gutowski (@StephenGutowski) October 2, 2017
First, the sale of new fully-automatic firearms was effectively banned in 1986 under the Hughes Amendment. https://t.co/la0nHvpyyq— Stephen Gutowski (@StephenGutowski) October 2, 2017
Fully-automatic firearms that were registered under the National Firearms Act before 1986 were grandfathered in & are still legal.— Stephen Gutowski (@StephenGutowski) October 2, 2017
However, in order to obtain a legal fully-automatic firearm you must apply to the ATF, pay a $200 tax, & register with the ATF.— Stephen Gutowski (@StephenGutowski) October 2, 2017
Here is the form anybody who wants to own a pre-86 fully-automatic firearm has to submit to the ATF: https://t.co/37kGakKyti— Stephen Gutowski (@StephenGutowski) October 2, 2017
The ATF has a registry of every legally-owned full-auto firearm & informs local law enforcement of all who own them in their jurisdiction.— Stephen Gutowski (@StephenGutowski) October 2, 2017
Given these steps, it’s no wonder that crimes with fully-automatic weapons are extraordinarily rare. As my colleague Charlie Cooke tweeted earlier this morning, legally-owned fully-automatic weapons have been used in three crimes since 1934.
So, a person who’s “not a gun guy” has either expended untold thousands of dollars to legally purchase fully-automatic weapons, somehow found them on the black market, or purchased and substantially modified multiple semi-automatic weapons — and did so with enough competence to create a sustained rate of fire. This same person also spent substantial sums purchasing just the right hotel room to maximize casualties. I cannot think of a single other mass shooter who went to this level of expense and planning in the entire history of the United States.
And there was no real warning? His family was unaware? His brother also reported that the shooter had no meaningful political or religious affiliations. “He just hung out.” At the same time, however, there are reports that a woman told a group of concert-goers, “You’re all going to die tonight.”
I’m not ready to draw any conclusions from these reports, but it’s worth highlighting how extraordinary this attack seems to be. Given the firepower and the packed mass of people, it’s easy to see how the casualty count was so high, even firing from an extreme range (by the standards of mass shootings.) This was the University of Texas tower attack on steroids, conducted out of nowhere, with meticulous planning and at great expense, from a person who doesn’t seem to fit any normal profile of a mass shooter. There is much we have yet to learn, but for now, this is one of the most chilling and mysterious events I’ve ever seen.
UPDATE: The story just keeps getting more bizarre. First, it looks like the shooter’s father was a former bank robber who was arrested by the FBI after a wild confrontation in, you guessed it, Las Vegas. Here’s Reason with the details:
Patrick Paddock was arrested on July 28, 1960, in Las Vegas, where he had fled after the bank robbery in Phoenix. “The FBI said Paddock tried to resist arrest and attempted to run down an agent with his car,” reports a July 28, 1960, article in the Citizen. “A shot was fired and Paddock surrendered.”
The FBI agents found nearly $3,000 and a loaded .38 caliber revolver in his car.
Second, ISIS had claimed responsibility for the attack — a claim I initially discounted — but it’s worth mentioning that it’s “tripling down” on the claim, even providing the shooter with a nom de guerre, Abu Abd El Bar. Here’s a tweet from the indispensable Rukmini Callimachi. Follow her thread for updates:
12. ISIS is tripling down on its claim. The group has issued a communique where they identify shooter with nom de guerre Abu Abd El Bar pic.twitter.com/o4aYQjBWzI— Rukmini Callimachi (@rcallimachi) October 2, 2017
Finally, it looks like the shooter did indeed use “at least one fully automatic rifle,” which of course raises the question of how he obtained such a weapon. Purchase? Modification? Could it be a weapon his father owned? We’re only scratching the surface of a sad and horrible story.
FINAL UPDATE: The Washington Post has published a well-reported profile of the shooter, and while it provides a more-complete picture of an evil man, it doesn’t help us understand his motive. He was the multimillionaire son of a notorious bank robber. He had no known history of mental illness, there’s no record of radical politics, and he had no criminal history. It looks like his first crime was the worst mass murder in American history, and ISIS is still trying to take credit for his attack. These facts are unique, to say the least.
Hopefully, the next few days will bring clarity. They may even render the shooter somehow more “normal” and explainable. For now, however, a dark and terrible day ends in confusion. We know what happened. We just don’t know why.