One year ago today, the Las Vegas Strip changed. Though the untrained eye may not notice anything different, many of us here in Southern Nevada can feel it all around us, especially along that stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard between Russell and Hacienda.
One year ago today, a gunman opened fire and killed 58 concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. Even though few laws have changed in the year since Nevada experienced the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, it has fueled a stronger gun violence prevention movement that’s more determined than ever to change this reality once and for all.
While I was sleeping, a tragedy was unfolding
As I was getting ready for bed, October 1 was a normal Sunday evening. I was worrying about stories for the week ahead. I was indulging in my typical slate of trashy reality TV shows that help me take my mind off more stressful topics.
I eventually fell asleep, but woke up just before 3:00 AM the next morning and learned about the shooting near Mandalay Bay. Within seconds, I was confronted with the reality that this wasn’t like all the other recent shootings on or near the Las Vegas Strip that resulted in one or two people dying (if even that).
Sadly, it was all too easy to become desensitized to the gun violence that was all around us. From 2012 to 2014, there were a series of shootings on The Strip, from a murder-suicide at the Excalibur’s hotel lobby to a startling attempted robbery backstage at “Thunder Down Under” (where, fortunately, no one was killed). And off-Strip, a person was killed by a gun every 20 hours as gun deaths were outpacing car deaths. While those deaths included active shooting incidents that captured national media attention, such as the shooting at Sparks Middle School in October 2013 and the “sovereign citizen” assassination of Las Vegas Metro Police Officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo in June 2014, there were many more gun violence tragedies across the state that attracted little or no media attention. But on the morning of October 2, the world seemed to stop on the Las Vegas Strip as the unthinkable finally occurred on our most famous street.
Amidst the pain and suffering, a new identity emerged: #VegasStrong
The day after the shooting, I rushed to Las Vegas Metro Police headquarters for a media briefing. Typically when I see a wide array of elected officials rush to the stage, it’s easy for me to roll my eyes as politicians seek extra camera time. But this time, it felt so different. Whether it was Governor Brian Sandoval’s (R) tearful remarks or Rep. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) voicing dismay over this tragedy afflicting so many of her constituents, their real pain was palpable.
The pain was even more palpable outside the Metro Police briefing room. The night after the shooting, people poured into Guardian Angel Cathedral to pay their respects to the 58 who lost their lives at Route 91. Three days after the shooting, when President Donald Trump stopped at UMC during his Las Vegas tour to thank first responders, I ran into someone outside the hospital who was searching for a loved one who was at the festival site Sunday night. And the week after, I spoke with a local mental health professional who was part of a small yet strong organization serving survivors in need of Spanish-language counseling, survivors who just beginning to process the trauma from the shooting.
In the days, weeks, and months that followed, I witnessed the pain, the trauma, the anger, and the horror evolve into compassion, generosity, gratitude, and love. In the immediate days following the shooting, “Helpful Hoodlums” rode to the rescue to provide supplies and helping hands. In the weeks thereafter, grassroots groups like Route 91 Strong emerged to assist more survivors in need. And to this day, citizen activists continue to raise awareness (and funds) for recovery efforts in this place where we live.
From 1 October to March For Our Lives, notes on the past year in gun violence prevention activism
Speaking of citizen activists, we’ve gradually seen a rising groundswell of support for gun violence prevention. Though we experienced the typical fadeaway of national media attention that occurs after mass shootings, the Parkland Shooting prompted a nationwide wave of student activism that ultimately reached Nevada.
In March, I encountered a few brave Nevadans who ventured all the way to Washington for the March for Our Lives to send a message to the nation’s leaders that Las Vegas can not and should not be forgotten. In April, I followed the UNLV students as they walked out and spoke out. And in July, I listened in as national and local March for Our Lives activists hit the “road to change” as they work to make change happen this November and beyond.
Thus far, no gun laws have changed in this state and only the most minor changes have occurred at the federal level. We’re still awaiting some sort of executive action on bump stocks, and we’re still awaiting the enforcement of the state’s background checks law. And just last month, Donald Trump said nothing about 1 October or gun violence while he was promoting his NRA-approved Supreme Court nominee.
Though the laws have barely budged in the past year, the attitudes in this state most certainly have. And in many ways, this shooting still reverberates so strongly one year later. Even now, I can still feel the sorrow whenever I go past Mandalay Bay. Yet at the same time, whenever I run around town, I feel a stronger sense of community, a stronger sense of belonging, and a stronger determination to make this already great place a better place for all who live and visit here. Even as challenges continue to arise, we continue to show the world we’re #VegasStronger.