Vegas Used To Be The Safest Place To Get Drunk

On the 63rd floor of Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas lives the Foundation Room. In this private club run by the House of Blues, dim lighting, oriental carpets and carved wooden doorways from India depicting deities in relief creates the feeling you’re at a sick house party rather than a bar. It was designed to feel spiritual. When I lived in Las Vegas and wrote a weekly column for the Review-Journal, my favorite spot was this southern-most property on the strip with endless views of glittering lights from the huge balconies. Sitting up there, looking out at all of Vegas put things in perspective. 

Last Sunday night, 31 floors below the Foundation Room, Stephen Paddock created his own view, knocking out the windows in his Mandalay Bay room, loading up 23 legally purchased guns, he opened fire on 22,000 men, women and children more than 300 yards away. 

Looking out at that same view, I saw a city with a rebellious streak, a mix of tourists and transients, natives and new comers mostly feeling optimistic about the freedom to congregate, to let loose, hoping to hit it big or just be a part of the game. I saw my generation flocking to Vegas as a rite of passage for birthdays and bachelorettes. 

Paddock saw a group of strangers he wanted to kill. 

Perspective is everything and I learned the casinos depended on my optimistic view and went to great lengths to protect it. Casinos are closely patrolled places. It’s counter-intuitive, because the marketing campaigns all suggest Vegas is the city where dirty fantasies become reality with no consequences, but the truth is everything is recorded, shared and analyzed. Nothing in Vegas, actually stays in Vegas.

The head of a tech security firm responsible for setting up surveillance in strip clubs once assured me that everything happening in the boom-boom room is recorded, matched to credit card data — which provides a person’s name and address — and is saved for a rainy day. That was in 2005, before most businesses had any concept of big data. 

The casinos primary interest isn’t your ass though, it’s theirs. No one is worth the risk of losing a liquor license — or worse still a gambling license — and casinos therefore make sure patrons are protected. As a young woman, I’d lived in Chicago, Washington, New York and Boston and in none of those cities did security ever notice when men harassed me. In Vegas, guys were routinely escorted “off property” for crossing a line. Once a stranger put a cup on my head. He didn’t pour anything on me, just rested his beer for a second. It wasn’t a big deal, but within moments, three security officers were carting him off. This was a decision made, unbeknownst to me, in the control room. 

There was an understood mutually assured destruction: acting out threatened the magic and would not be tolerated.

Since moving back East, I’d idealized this security, but in the aftermath of the shooting the former music critic at the Review-Journal and current-Vegas resident corrected me. The Vegas I was nostalgic for no longer existed the way I remembered it. The casinos, for the most part, are still safe, but new gun laws have made the outside areas deadly. And, unless you plan to stay exclusively in one property, you may be risking your life cruising around on the strip. 

“My local Wal-Mart limits long rifle ammo to 3 boxes a day, not to slow gang killings or domestic murderers, but because of demand,” Doug Elfman said. “A few years ago, the Tea Party took over the state legislature and passed laws that let everybody walk around with machine guns.”

He has a point. The Center for American Progress reported: “From 2005 to 2014, Nevada had the 10th-highest rate of gun deaths of any state, with a rate of 14.7 gun deaths for every 100,000 people. This rate was 44 percent higher than the national average.”

The impact of Nevada’s lax laws extends beyond its borders. In California, the numbers of guns recovered from crimes that originated from Nevada increased 94 percent in that same period.

The victims are not confined to Nevada either. People from all over the country were wounded and died in the shooting in Las Vegas.

We get distracted labeling the shooter as black, white or Muslim, when the statistic that matters is 100 percent of the shootings occur because of access to guns. We’re fixated on the shooter’s motive, when we know the gun’s motive is simply to kills as much as possible, as quickly as possible. Why is any sane person okay with people walking around with killing machines?

“Recently I was shopping at Smith’s grocery store and walked by a guy in his 30s with guns on his belt.,” Elfman said. “Did he stop last night’s shooting? No. When you walk up and down the strip, you see military vehicles that belong to private tourist excursions that promise you they’ll take you out and let you shoot the fuck out of everything. We have machine gun ranges. We have regular gun ranges. The gun ranges have publicists who send out emails saying which celebrities came in to shoot shit. Just in the last couple of years we have had a homeless guy shooting a gun in the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard in between the Bellagio and the Paris Hotel. We had another guy not long ago who holed up on a tourist bus with a gun and just started shooting fucking people. Now this bullshit. On top of that, the second that the law started allowing people to walk around with guns, all these fucking gangs moved here from other states because they can do all their fucking gun gang business openly. These fucking tea party gun fetishists have turned Las Vegas into one of the most dangerous cities in the world. And the hotels aren’t doing anything to stop it.”

The competition between hotel-casinos on the strip is fierce. No one wants you to leave their property to go spend your cash at another. Free drinks, paid models walking around, low-limit tables by the exits, oxygen pumping through the vents and floor plans designed to lead you away from the door are all part of the ploy to keep you on property. Is it possible the casinos saw the growing violence outside their doors as an effective tactic to keep patrons away from the competition? Nothing would surprise me. 

But now a bad actor has used the casino property, Mandalay Bay, as a tool in his plan to attack innocent civilians outside the property. Paddock took a page out of the casino’s surveillance culture, rigging cameras to alert him when law enforcement was approaching. He’d checked in days earlier and waited until the final hours of the country music festival to commence his assault. 

The game has changed.

No maid noticed the arsenal of weapons? No casino security officers — usually former police and military personal with excellent experience and training — picked up on anything suspicious i.e. Paddock’s behavior, his placing of the cameras, his movements, the breaking of his windows, and so forth? 

Vegas is a bastion of soft targets. Part of the charm is the openness of it all. There’s an American optimism in the design of the city with expansive casino floors, outside venues and bars, massive hotels with underground parking lots, inside vistasfilled with restaurants and courtyards, miles of pools and sunbathing grounds. The strip was made for walking and people watching. Yet, these attractions become vulnerabilities when people are permitted to walk around with killing machines. 

Vegas represents a microcosm of the United States. Pushing limits, taking risks, celebrating spontaneity and resilience, the city of sin embodies our national respect for free will. 

But the concept of freedom has been bastardized by the pro-gun advocates who have manipulated the second amendment into a right to bear weapons of mass destruction. Most Americans are not in favor of automatic weapons, yet our Congress is considering loosening regulations on them, not tightening it. 

After Sandy Hook, we thought there would be reform, but 20 dead children weren’t enough to move the needle. Last June, Congress postponed a hearing that would have made buying silencers easier after Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La, was shot at the Congressional baseball game. That bill is coming up again. The Vegas shooting may once again push it back. But, nomatter how many people are shot these bills don’t die. 

The argument that guns protect people is dead. No one listening to Jason Aldean on Sunday night could have shot Paddock. Anyone who tried would have likely shot innocent people in other hotel rooms nearby. States like Mass., Conn., Calif. and Maryland have the toughest gun laws and the least gun violence. Whereas, states like Nevada, Texas, Alaska and Vermont that have the most lenient gun laws have the most the violence. This is not rocket science.

But our federal law makers are castrated by private interests, more concerned in their reelection coffers than their duty to protect the citizenry. Add to the flaccid Congress the newdynamic of angry men unfazed by consequences because they’re planning to die in the aftermath of their carnage — ending any assurances relied on in our mutually-assured-destruction deterrent of the past — and our situation starts to feels hopeless.

We cannot stop madmen and apparently, our law makers prefer to be accomplices to mass murder than to stand up to the gun lobbyist.

Perhaps the only person who can save us from this tragic fate is our President. Out of all our Presidents, Trump might be the one to put his foot down. He appreciates letting loose as much the rest of us, he’s spent time in Vegas and loves the same qualities I do. Trump might understand, that Vegas is America and that our openness and sense of freedom is under attack by these grossly negligent gun laws. If he wants to drain the swamp, he could start by standing up to the dirty money behind these pro-gun laws. An executive order banning assault weapons would set an example for all elected officials that money doesn’t trump everything. Most Americans want gun control and a move in this direction would surely boost Trump’s popularity with everyone. If legacy is important to President Trump, then he should consider this incredible opportunity to leave his mark. Making America safe again, would be the best way to make America great again.

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