After one of the worst massacres in U.S history there will be plenty of time to play the blame game.
There will be time to argue about possible stricter gun control laws.
And there will be time for journalists to dwell on the lurid and sensational details of the killer’s life.
But amazingly, for the first week after the shooting, none of that happened. Instead we were comforted by an onslaught of inspiring stories of selflessness, heroism and caring.
By now you surely have read, seen or heard many of the heroic tales. They transformed the story about a gunman killing dozens and injuring hundreds into dozens of stories of thousands reaching out to help. There was Jesus Campos, the unarmed hotel security guard who first tried to breach the shooter’s room and took a bullet in the leg. There was Marine veteran Taylor Winston. He found a truck with the keys in it and setup a makeshift hospital. Then he drove dozens of people to the hospital. Jonathan Smith, a copier repairman, saved 30 people before taking a bullet himself – luckily surviving. And there were so many more.
The narratives of the heroes who helped the wounded, of those that came to give blood, and of those who donated some millions of dollars to help the victims and their families … they almost rivaled the outpouring of humanity and support after the 9/11 attack.
And amazingly, this time the media actually focused on all those stories, instead of the gruesome details of the crime itself.
What all of that tells me about America is this: We are much more loving, much more caring, and much safer today than ever.
Are We Really Safer?
Yes, that’s right. I said we are safer and more loving. The facts of the matter are that even with all these appalling mass shootings which have occurred over the last couple of decades, the murder rate and the rate of violent crime has actually almost been cut in half over the last 25 years.
There are a whole lot of theories about why. They range from commonsense ideas like stronger law enforcement to stiffer prison sentences to changing demographics to those as bizarre as higher abortion rates somehow cutting down on crime.
But the facts don’t really support any of those explanations, and there’s no real consensus about how one of the largest social shifts in modern American occurred.
So here’s my guess. It’s because we are actually getting more civilized – what a crazy concept, huh? No, really. Consider that in the last century there were far more horrific mass killings in this country – many of them not perpetrated by one lone insane gunman but by hordes of everyday Americans doing unspeakable violence to other Americans.
There was the unfathomable Greenwood Massacre in Tulsa in 1921, when some 300 affluent African American were killed and over 800 wounded simply because they were successful and wealthy.
Fast forward to the turbulent sixties and the Watts riot in 1965 when 30,000 took violently to the streets, leaving 34 dead and 1000 injured. It set off a string of dozens of violent riots across the nation over the next decade that rocked America to its core and brought us probably closer to revolution than at any other time in our history.
Contrast that with what happened in Las Vegas where one single man resorted to violence, but thousands stood up against him to help others. And that’s been the story for several decades now – thousands, no millions of Americans helping others, while the number of perpetrators continues to dwindle.
This nation has matured from one that grew way too fast into a disconnected collection of heartless metropolises into one that is now a thriving network of connected communities. One where people not only reach out to help those in their neighborhoods but in their cities, their states and their nation, coming from far and wide when tragedy strikes, whether hurricanes or tornadoes, forest fires or, God forbid, mass shootings and terrorist attacks.
Ideas like Amber Alerts keep criminals on the run while watchful citizens who don’t even know the victims look out for them thousands of miles away. And sophisticated organ donor networks bring life to those who need them anywhere across the nation in only hours.
Granted, mass shootings like the one in Las Vegas have grown more frequent in the last twenty years. But with every occurrence we learn more about the motivations of these lone disturbed individuals who are now outliers in a sea of mostly decent Americans.
And with that understanding will also come ideas for how to stave them off as we realize that these people have two things thing in common – isolation, whether self-imposed or socially imposed – and a sense of being under overwhelming pressure.
Maybe that realization will help us look deeper into our own hearts and heads and ask why in one of the richest, most socially connected, and interactive nations in the world would anyone feel isolated and under so much pressure that he needs to lash out in such an angry way? Why in a nation of such love and compassion would anyone feel the need to hate any longer?
And maybe we can all help answer that question in our lives, in our own families and in our own communities so that there will never be another Stephen Paddock.