Am I Complicit? Post-Las Vegas Reflections

My wife Sandy woke me up shortly after 5:00am yesterday morning with a text about a mass murder in Las Vegas:

20 dead in Vegas shooting

Used auto weapon

For 30 minutes I scanned Twitter for breaking news, then went into my a self-imposed 24 hour social media blackout. Emerging now from my self-imposed exile I see we don’t know a whole hell of a lot more than 24 hours ago. How can sane, peace-loving people understand a barbaric madman after all? So this is a more personal reflection than a deep analysis of the causes and prevention of mass murder.

My wife’s original text that the shooter “used auto weapon” hit close to home because a week earlier too had used a fully automatic rifle, and one from Nevada at that (Reno, not Las Vegas).

Was I somehow complicit in what happened in Las Vegas? Was it wrong for me to enjoy shooting a “weapon of war,” a tool not like any other tool but one designed to hurl as many deadly projectiles as quickly as possible at a chose target? While others were blaming Obama or Trump, the NFL or NRA, I wondered in what sense might I be to blame?

Upon reflection, I do not believe I am complicit. I do not see how my safe and responsible shooting of a legally owned and operated fully automatic rifle makes me at all responsible for the actions of a criminal.

I don’t feel responsible for the actions of the Las Vegas shooter any more than as a vehicle owner I feel responsible for the deaths of 2 innocent people as the result of a high speed chase in Greensboro the other day.

How many fewer innocent victims would there be in America if people just did not have cars? Although the motor vehicle fatality rate has declined since 1972, the United States still has the highest rate in the developed world. We are better than that! Can’t we see that there are immediate solutions we can impose that will dramatically reduce this rate? Raise the age at which people can legally drive to 21 and reduce the maximum speed of cars. After all, who needs a car that can go faster than 60 miles per hour? If it saves just one life…

Crash with five fatalities during police chase in Greensboro. Photo courtesy of WXII-TV

Nor, as I have written previously, as someone who drinks alcohol regularly do I feel responsible for any of the terrible things people do to themselves and others because of their alcohol consumption. Especially alcohol consumption in conjunction with driving too young in their cars that go too fast.

Just yesterday I received notice of the publication of an article that shows the amount of beer and spirits (but not wine!) consumed by a population is statistically correlated with national homicide rates.

OK, well maybe we NEED our cars, but certainly no one NEEDS to drink alcohol. As a nation don’t we need to take a serious look at ourselves and realize that our lax alcohol laws are taking a human toll every day? If it saves just one life . . .

None of this is to say that I am not pained and outraged by homicidal violence, especially when it takes place on a grand scale or stage. Or to say I don’t want to understand why mass murders occur and to know how to reduce them.

But I won’t hear those who think I should alter my behavior out of feelings of guilt for what happened in Las Vegas until they first give up their cars and booze out of guilt for what happens as a result of driving and drinking (separate and together) every day in America. If it saves just one life. . .


  1. I’ll have more to say later but since you brought up traffic deaths and since I just spent the last four years chairing my county transportation advisory board….

    Even though I am a safe driver, I would be complicit in traffic fatals if I:
    1. advocated for high (35-45 mph) speed limits in cities, knowing the statistics on pedestrian survivorship vs. impact speed.
    2. Insisted on paving more six or eight lane arterials with few if any safe crossings, knowing this encourages unsafe pedestrian movement and increases deaths.
    3. advocated raising the legal DWI to 0.12 BAC knowing the science on impairment vs. BAC.
    4. Eliminated bike lanes in favor of more travel lanes just to increase motor vehicle level of service.
    5. Supported my state’s rule on installing HAWK systems at critical locations only after high ped counts, knowing full well that few people cross the streets without them, i.e., requiring a Catch-22.
    6. Passed a rule at my DMV office that anyone who passes a road test in a Prius can legally drive a Peterbilt eighteen wheeler.

    You sort of get my drift. As far as the risk-benefit ratio to society of you and I being able to easily order an AR and modify it to bump-fire with a 50 round drum magazine, knowing that even if we never misuse it, the risk table of unlikely but catastrophic events might come true some day as it just did, I’ll let readers figure it out.

    The gun community has to stop being so goddam narcissistic. Or, just move to rural Idaho where no one is downrange.

    Liked by 1 person

      • A couple of years ago I started wading into the field of risk science or decision science, then started drowning so swam back out. This likelihood vs impact risk table reminds me that I need to wade back in now that I have a couple more years experience swimming under my belt. Thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

    • The problem is, every time we “give a little” the anti-rights crowd pushes for more. The leadership is simply not sincere in wanting to address issues without unnecessarily impacting the law-abiding majority. Their own statements and actions in Congress until recently, and ongoing in the anti-gun rights states over decades, prove that out.

      Even now the more aware among them are noting that, even if we give up bump fire stocks, that any semi can be bump-fired merely via technique and ad hoc “devices” are easy to make. So they are back on banning all semi-autos and all standard mags via referencing Australia.

      I mean, just look, they are doing their post-tragedy standard, “immediately trot out the pre-planned calls for more controls regardless of relevance while people are in shock.” Note the same-day calls for “expanded background checks” and opposition to moving silencers to NICs, even though neither are relevant in any way to this crime.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Correctomundo. What I have noticed, too, is the usual suspects are trotting out all their standard suggestions, regardless of whether they would work, i.e., this guy actually passed all his background checks. Its a mess.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah I think I feel you Khal.

      It was just recently I quit letting myself get bothered by AWR all the time. The philosophical defense I began subscribing to is really best applied to handguns. I had always had a defense for all long guns in any form; but this hurts. This is a unique shooting. Even at least one of the writers for AWR concedes that people will slip through the cracks. Nothing you could really do to stop this shooting unless the sale of semi-auto guns and whatever they decide are high capacity magazines were banned for awhile. Still, mass shootings are an anomaly, although I feel so horrible for those people hurt.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Casualties per Sheriff’s news briefing: 58 Dead; 1 Likely to Go; 500 wounded.

    Professor, if you were ever to act irrational or in a reckless manner, aside from myself, many others would raise voices. To be more precise, everything that you teach, via this blog, all follows one path, where being armed, means that people have additional responsibilities, and additional obligations. Courses, range time, current events, laws, litigations, safety, basic safety and advanced, weapon maintenance and cleaning, product review and analysis.
    Based upon my lifetime training and experience, if anyone ever dare accuse you, of inappropriate conduct or behavior where a firearm is involved, I would urge them to schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist.
    The Mandalay Bay mass murder scene was caused by a demented Leftist. Just like the DC ballpark shooting was caused by a demented Leftist. What I do find significant fault with, is that the Second Amendment, having twenty-seven words, remains the only bastardized amendment, and there are numerous practitioners within the firearms field demanding additional regulations be heaped up on top of what is already concealing the significance and beauty of what our Founding Fathers had written, in such a specific manner. People, have not demanded Constitutional Carry. Perhaps some of the 559 people who are casualties, did not demand Constitutional Carry. If people were armed, return fire or suppressing fire could have been achieved until the arrival of police. If anyone does not believe their handgun can reach one hundred yards and hit, go onto and look at Hickok45 channel. Spend some time there.
    In the aftermath of the most recent event in Las Vegas, here, on this blog, discourse is sober and down to earth. It reminds me of when cops would get together over a cup of coffee and discuss police matters. Allegedly, Paddock, used a bump-fire device. But without any device, a skilled person or an inquisitive person learns other ways to get around a problem, and a situation.

    It has a nice beat and it’s easy to dance to:

    Liked by 2 people

    • I would argue that “suppressive fire” with concealable handguns (the only thing realistically any concert goer might have) against a guy with scoped rifles, back inside the room unseen and unseeable, moving from vantage point to vantage point, 32 stories up, in the dark, from an undetermined precise location, amounts to “firing at occupied hotel rooms, likely with innocent people at their windows watching the show.”

      There’s not a -realistic- “if only someone had a gun” response here. Except, if only the fog of war had lifted enough to let LVPD and LVSD zero in faster and rush the room sooner.

      The Texas tower was a guy in broad daylight, isolated on a point target, with at least only a clear sky and miles of Texas as backstop, and the suppressive fire still went all over the place.


      • IIRC, it was students and other locals who effectively engaged with deer rifles well prior to first police, who showed up with their usual patrol shotguns (shades of LA on the latter). Not sure if they brought rifles in as more responded.

        I’d have to go look.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That is my recollection. Students and others fetched centerfire rifles and were able to reduce Whitman’s effectiveness as a sniper with counterfire. Kinda like that “good guys with guns” suggestion. But their guns were in dorm rooms or nearby locations. An anathema to many modern UT students. There is a middle ground here, if folks want to find it.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Calculated. You just hit on something. Paddock knew, where he would be just out of range for handgun fire. Thirtieth floor, would have been the drop off range. More velocity required to reach the fire floor.

        Liked by 3 people

      • Yeah Brittius, this was definitely well planned out.

        The thing a lot of the people not into guns don’t get is that none of this is particularly complex. Like most of us, they figure if they never think about something, or don’t know anything about it, it must be arcane and unknowable.

        Part of the whole gun control issue, people assume since they would never try to circumvent a given law, much less desire to commit the offense in the first place, no one else would and doing so must be difficult.

        It’s only when you can walk someone willing to listen through how gun controls all fail in practice that they start to get it. Of course many prefer even afterwards to then deny reality once they are no longer comfortably ignorant of it. The “but we must do -something-” instinct, even if ineffective, is hard to give up.

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Matt: Gunny G., posted that Paddock had transferred $100K to the Philippines. Initially, I had thought that bookie operations worked out of there, and they do, however Paddock was not into the loan sharks, that anyone can substantiate at this juncture in the investigation. More likely, it was an effort to deprive his wife of funds by giving it to the girlfriend, because he knew, that he was not surviving the event and would go out feet first, with a toe tag. Paddock had the bases covered. The brother, Eric Paddock, needs to be re-interviewed by investigators. I would maintain the girlfriend as a person of interest within the scope of the investigation. Everything was too well planned. Lack of armed security. He knew everything. When the concert was announced, that is when I believe he started planning. Months ahead of time. That means Paddock had to be talking. People knew. (PLOT = PLanning Of Treachery).


  4. This is a really interesting reflection and it helps me think of the other arguments that seek to instill a sense of responsibility in all of us for tragic, violent events, since those tragic events are seen as an extreme event along a continuum of events and ideologies that make the extreme event possible.

    For example, saying we live in a “rape culture” that glamorizes men’s sexual aggression and positions women as enjoying or asking for such aggression implies that even men who do not rape are complicit in the rape culture (for instance, by talking about women as pieces of ass, by saying things that excuse perpetrators and blame victims, and through the many ways they might be participating in the rape culture).

    Another example has to do with racism. In his “Dear White America” essay published in the NY Times in 2015, Black philosopher George Yancey can be seen as making a similar point about how white people are complicit in horrid acts of racism. As he put it, “Don’t tell me that you voted for Obama. Don’t tell me that I’m the racist. Don’t tell me that you don’t see color. Don’t tell me that I’m blaming whites for everything. To do so is to hide yet again. You may have never used the N-word in your life, you may hate the K.K.K., but that does not mean that you don’t harbor racism and benefit from racism.”

    Finally, many people have discussed how everyday German citizens in the 1930s were complicit with the Nazis’ genocidal program. Should those citizens have told themselves they were not complicit?

    I realize that you might have a very interesting and intelligent response to this–in other words, I’m not trying to say “gotcha” here. I’m just hoping you’ll write a blog post about this very thing. Your blog is, after all, called “Gun Culture 2.0.” So I think it would be really interesting for you to consider more explicitly what gun culture is and does (good or bad), how it is or is not parallel to other “cultures”, and further consider more explicitly what your argument implies for these other ” — culture” arguments about how we are all participating in said ” — culture” and so are actions are in some ways partly responsible or complicit. What is “gun culture”? Is it parallel to rape culture or white supremacist culture? Maybe it is similar only if you are upset by gun violence or are a gun-control advocate. Thanks for considering these questions!

    Liked by 1 person

    • One could be accused of being complicit in *any* ill if one wants to make absurd extrapolations. Homelessness? Elder abuse? Child abduction? Deforestation? Conflict diamonds? One’s mere existence is proof of being complicit.

      If one does not want to devalue the meaning of any word, one should not use any word willy-nilly.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment on this post. I certainly understand where you’re coming from and suggesting I go. In fact, although I don’t draw parallels to race or rape, I do draw parallels quite a bit to alcohol. We have an alcohol culture in America, which I and almost every single adult I know participates in. Alcohol causes more social harm than guns by far. In fact, if you take incidents of interpersonal violence with guns and remove alcohol from the equation you could very well reduce the violence rate more than by taking guns out the equation. And yet who goes to the grocery store to buy a six pack of IPA and thinks, if I drink this how am I contributing to a culture that is going to get someone beated, raped, or killed?

      (One of many studies showing important role of alcohol in homicidal violence – Of course, most who work in this area seek to limit access to guns but not to alcohol –

      But here’s the crux of the problem: I am one person with limited time and resources. I don’t think I need to trace out the implications of your argument because the virtually entire field of gun studies does this already. The fundamental premise of the sociology, criminology, epidemiology, and public health approaches to guns is begin with the negative implications of guns and work back to trying to understand gun ownership and culture as a fundamental cause.

      Of sociologists studying the lawful behavior of legal gun owners, Jennifer Carlson does this the least – but still focuses on the ways toxic masculinity drives gun carry. Angela Stroud gives a standard race-class-gender ideology analysis of concealed carriers (though an insufficiently intersectional one). Harel Shapira looks at how gun owners promote “civilized violence.” Despite the fact that licensed concealed carriers have some of the lowest rates of criminal behavior of anyone in the country – which Carlson herself admits.

      All of these are pieces of the puzzle, like understanding how some women who own guns are part of a broader movement for physical feminism. But unlike you in your work, alot of people working on these issues have the same pieces.

      So, I have my hands full with my difference piece of the puzzle. I entered the field wanting to understand gun culture on its own terms. I have spent over 5 years on the ground observing and participating in gun culture and I still don’t feel I understand it well. So every day — and I took 7 days this week — I spend thinking first about gun violence and then working back to gun culture is a day I don’t get to spend trying to do my part.

      When major events occur I do try to suggests ways in which what I have learned might illuminate the public discussion. But that does not mean I am most concerned about the negative outcomes.

      I sleep easy knowing my fellow social scientists who outnumber me 100 to 1 will make the argument you suggest.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. I was thinking more of how gun culture might be fundamentally different from rape culture or white supremacy culture. One could argue that there is little to nothing good about white supremacy or rape culture even in their mild or passive forms, whereas there are positive benefits to gun culture and gun use, e.g., sport, securing food, and self-protection. So while there may be crazies who commit violent crimes attracted to and participating in gun culture, the gun culture is not a continuum of crazies, violent people, or bad ideas. I suppose it points to a larger debate about how we assign blame or moral responsibility.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Prof. Yamane’s point about how premises can shape research is key, as is your question about which culture(s) to compare “gun culture” to.

      If we start with negative cultures, or even something like “alcohol culture” which involves a substance which can be used benignly but is inherently harmful, then the frame for our research will always be justifying participation in the culture as if the rational default would be “don’t do.”

      Instead, given that self-defense/defense against tyranny, while strong -theoretical- reasons for gun ownership and shooting, are but two of the host of other positive reasons to participate in “gun culture,” the -practical- reasons people participate, the ways they actually act on that membership, are closer to various “hobby” cultures.

      I specifically think of “car culture.” There are a host of Americans who own performance cars (as I do), some even own legitimate race cars, and who race on weekends on tracks and other legal venues, who share nothing but possession of a fast car and purchasing parts from the same vendors* with illegal street racers. Not making a car/gun -object- comparison, noting that no one even thinks of the legal car culture in regards to illegal street racing, it simply doesn’t come up because the frame of conflating the two hasn’t been constructed by media and academia in the public mind.

      Perhaps that is a place to start. Not by starting by looking at the (potential) harms of a given legal culture, and thus viewing people’s participation in it in terms of justifications -despite- that potential, but looking at the extant positives of the legal culture and seeing what intersect, if any, there is between that legal, positive use, and the much smaller levels of misuse.

      * perhaps ironically, in the case of illegal racers the parts and cars are often stolen from legal owners, which would be a direct parallel with some access to guns by criminals

      Liked by 3 people

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