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Joe Henderson: Vegas killer ‘just a guy’ but he wasn’t

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There was no reason to know the name Stephen Paddock before we awoke to the news Monday morning that he had gone on a murderous rampage. The man we’ll now remember as the Las Vegas killer had apparently committed nothing worse than a minor traffic violation.

He owned guns but didn’t appear to be overly fascinated with them. He didn’t have military training. If he was mentally ill – and, really, how could he not be – apparently it didn’t show. There didn’t seem to be any reason to put him on a watch list. He was, his brother Eric Paddock told reporters, “just a guy.”

Except, obviously he wasn’t.

We’ll know more by the time investigators comb through every inch of his life in the coming days and weeks.

Here’s what we do know, though. If Stephen Paddock, who used to live in Melbourne before moving to Las Vegas, had tried to buy a gun last week, he likely would have passed a background check and his purchase would have been legal.

The real question is how he acquired the arsenal, including what sounded like a machine gun, he used to murder at least 58 people outside a Las Vegas concert and injure more than 500 others. I’m willing to bet he didn’t get those at a mom ‘n pop gun store. If they were legally purchased though, then the system needs to be seriously re-examined

There has been the suggestion that he had heavy gambling debts and that might have set him off, but lots of people do. Even if it’s true I can’t imagine that will be much use in future mass-murder investigations.

Future mass murders?

It’s clear by now that a motivated killer is almost impossible to stop. The only answer is to keep guns out of their hands, and there aren’t enough leaders with the will to try and do that.

I think we could at least make a dent in the problem, but it would require devoting twenty, forty or maybe a thousand times more resources at shutting down the illegal gun pipeline.

There are many ways for someone with criminal intent to illegally purchase a gun. They could have a friend buy it for them. So-called street dealers can acquire weapons from a licensed dealer, then sell them on the black market in cash transactions with no questions asked.

It’s inevitable that a horror like the one in Vegas will bring loud cries for stricter gun control laws. It’s also inevitable that the National Rifle Association will swat that that challenge like it has all the others, including the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

But why? Proponents argue that the vast majority of gun-related crimes are estimated are committed by people who acquired the weapon illegally.If the percentage of crimes committed by legal gun owners is low, why not enlist them and the NRA into a serious crackdown on underground sales?

Well, logical as that might seem, this is the mindset it would be up against.

In an op-ed earlier this year for The Hill, Chris W. Cox is the executive director for the NRA Institute for Legislative Action declared, “there has not been a demonstrated correlation between mental illness and violence.”


There has, however, been a demonstrated correlation between a high-velocity bullet entering a human body and a shortened life expectancy for that person. Maybe this time leaders will offer more than shallow condolences.

This was “just a guy” who did this – except this guy had an armory and no one knew about it. None of the normal warning systems in place likely would have made stopped this.

If this doesn’t show that it’s just too damn easy to acquire instruments of death, I don’t know what else it’s going to take.

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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