Editorial, Oct. 5, 2017

By Portland Press Herald editorial board | Oct 05, 2017

What will we learn?

Editor's note: The following editorial was originally published in Portland Press Herald.

Monday morning arrived with news that was both shocking and familiar.

A gunman had fired on a crowd in an American city, this time in Las Vegas, but it could have been Dallas, Charleston, Orlando, San Bernardino or our nation’s capital.

People were dead. People were injured. The casualty list mounted with each report.

And, if you were like many of us Monday morning, you wanted to know the identity of the Las Vegas killer to make sense of what happened.

Was he a jihadist at war with America?

Was he a domestic extremist from the far right or far left of our political spectrum?

Was he under the influence of a mania, and somehow got his hands on powerful guns, despite the laws designed to keep them away from people like him?

It’s natural to want to know. If we had some of the answers, we’d have the narrative frame to organize the information and we could apply what we already know about how the world works to sort things out. We could decide which facts were important, which were insignificant and how new pieces would fit together.

Then, at least, we’d know what happened and have a good idea of why.

As the morning wore on, we learned that the shooter was “a local man” in his 60s, and then later that his name was Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nevada, a retirement community resident with a pilot’s license and no history of violence. The range of possibilities narrowed with each answer, and the shock gave way.

Even though it’s reassuring to feel like you know what’s going on, let’s not be too quick to abandon that original feeling of discomfort. These facts that we now have don’t really tell us much important about what happened, and we shouldn’t let them distract us from what we were feeling when we first heard the news.

Our gut tells us that we are vulnerable to violence, and so is everyone we care about. We don’t need a news release to remind us that we could never predict all the ways that certain minds will be motivated to take advantage of our vulnerability.

And experience tells us that political lines have already been so firmly drawn, we are more likely to blame each other for allowing this to happen than we are to do something to prevent it from happening again.

Before we latch on to answers about what occurred Sunday night, we should keep asking the questions that we had Monday morning.

The U.S. is not the only country that’s a target for terrorists, or has contentious politics or people with mental illness. But it is about the only place on earth where indiscriminate mass murder happens with such regularity. Why is that?

And regardless of what was going through the mind of the latest deranged shooter, what, if anything, are we willing to do about it?

Election letters heads up

This is an early warning for letter-writers interested in sharing opinions about the upcoming Nov. 7 election: No letters will be published the Thursday prior to Election Day. All election-related letters should be received at the Journal office, or via email, no later than Tuesday, Oct. 24, at noon.

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