No easy answers to stopping shootings

The Sunday night massacre in Las Vegas will spark a furious — and that is the correct word — debate in America. How can we as a people not wonder what, if anything, could have been done to prevent an attack that claimed at least 59 lives and wounded more than 500 other people?

Knee-jerk reactions will abound. Some will say nothing less than confiscating guns will prevent such violence. Others will claim more guns, in the hands of law-abiding citizens, are the best safeguards against such violence.

For a time, much of what you will hear and read will reflect extreme views on all sides of the debate. That is natural, given the horror of what happened.

But perhaps the most useful assessment was offered by Clark County, Nev., Sheriff Joseph Lombardo, in whose jurisdiction the tragedy occurred. “I can’t get into the mind of a psychopath at this point,” he told reporters on Monday. “I don’t know how this could have been prevented.”

Lombardo is right. Stephen Craig Paddock, the 64-year-old man who carried out the bloodbath before killing himself, clearly was deranged. Someone that mentally unhinged with the resources Paddock had would have been able to obtain weapons and ammunition capable of slaughtering scores of people regardless of what firearms laws were on the books. Ignoring that reality is foolish.

But it appears some of the weapons Paddock used were fully automatic — machine guns, in effect. That kind of firearm is illegal for civilian use except in rare, tightly controlled circumstances.

If, indeed, the killer had machine guns, we need to know more about how he obtained them and what might have been done to keep them out of his hands.

Past that issue, however, any debate over new gun control laws probably would be unproductive.

There is an exception. It involves those whose mental illness has made them homicidal. No rational person would argue against keeping firearms out of such hands.

There, agreement on the matter ends, however. How do we identify such threats to the public? How do we deal with them, without the risk of taking away the liberties of many other people who may be no worse than erratic — but hardly homicidal?

Too often, we Americans turn to government to solve all our problems. It cannot do that.

But when we seek government guarantees of our safety, we enter the political realm. Surely we understand that allowing politics, rather than reason, to guide us is not a good idea.

We need to investigate and talk about the who, what, why and how of the massacre in Las Vegas. But we need to have that discussion without basing it on the hope that seems to spring eternal, that there are easy answers.

There are not.