Less than a week after it happened, the best journalists of our time have found the real story of the tragedy in Vegas – the “goofy little doodad” that Stephen Paddock used to more efficiently murder concert-goers on Sunday night. Bump stocks.
This is the point in the story where a bump stock would be defined and explained, but we’re not going to bother.
In the minutes, hours, and days after a mass shooting, coverage follows an all-too-familiar pattern. First the tweets and four-sentence stories, then a blitz of out-of-context photos, then a mass of timelines and maps.
This is all respectable reporting, and reporters did admirable, harrowing work early this week to tell the story of the Las Vegas shooting. But they also fell into a trap that has haunted YouTube comments and Reddit threads for years — they got stuck on guns-as-gadgets.
Whisper the word “clip” within 100 meters of an armchair gun enthusiast, and you’ll get a shouting response about magazines that would satisfy anyone who thinks print journalism will live on in gloss. Such is the nasty mix of technical handwringing and pedantic hyper-correctness that has helped poison this week's potential entry into the debate around guns.
Bump stocks are just complicated enough to warrant an animation by Vox and prominent explainer placements on the pages of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and elsewhere — column inches that would be better served to discuss the staggeringly simple need for gun regulation in the United States.
That's the most neferious part of the gun lobby's newfound infatuation with bump stocks – that it distracts us from the real debate. By making the conversation focus on a modification most people had never heard of before this week, the element of human suffering and the brutality of our country's pattern of gun violence loses potency. Combine that with a tepid NRA call for bump stock regulations and some noncommital Republican lawmakers, and a scapegoat has been made. The bump stock is a means to legislating around the glaring issue of gun violence in America.
Thinkpieces and explainers on them wouldn't have stopped Columbine, or Aurora, or Sandy Hook. These victims are still on our country's hands, and blaming bump stocks cannot absolve of these tragedies.
Bump stocks don’t kill people. Guns kill people. They do so accidentally or cruelly, and disproportionately. Who cares what big-boy toys are attached to them when they do so?