Thomas Gabor – How Did the Las Vegas Gunman Get His Hands on a Weapon of War?

On Sunday night in Las Vegas, a shooter opened fire on a concert from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay resort with what appeared to be an assault weapon. This is a devastating tragedy, and one that has unfortunately become a trend in the U.S.: There has been an average of one mass shooting a day in 2017 (defined as four or more people shot, excluding the shooter). This incident has eclipsed all previous mass shootings in U.S. history, as there are already 58 people dead and hundreds wounded.

LVWhat kind of weapon is capable of inflicting so many casualties, from such a distance, in a matter of 10 to 15 minutes? While we don’t know where the gunman got his weapons and precise information on them has not been disclosed, based on reports of the rate of fire, they were likely either semiautomatic or fully automatic assault weapons. Semiautomatic assault weapons (whose trigger must be pulled to fire each round) have a rate of fire of over 100 rounds a minute. These weapons were banned from 1994 to 2004 under what is commonly referred to as the “assault weapon ban,” and are now readily available for sale in all but six states. There are reports that the shooter might have fired an automatic weapon (one just presses the trigger and the weapon keeps firing until it is released), which can fire up to a thousand rounds a minute. These weapons are tightly regulated. Regardless of the rate of fire, many of these weapons can pierce a soldier’s helmet from a distance of 500 yards.

More than half of the deadliest mass shootings since 1949 have occurred in the last decade, I’ve found in my own research. This is despite improved emergency response and better surgical outcomes. The only credible explanation for the increased lethality of these incidents is deadlier weapons and ammunition. Assault-style firearms have been the weapons of choice in many of the deadliest mass shootings in recent history: Orlando, Fla., Newtown, Conn., and San Bernardino, Calif.

The incident in Las Vegas reveals the fallacy of the tired slogan, “Guns don’t kill, people do.” Yes, we need to address why so many Americans are attempting to kill a maximum of their fellows at random. At the same time, only a weapon designed for war could kill so many people from such a distance. High-capacity magazines capable of holding up to 100 rounds of ammunition only make that danger worse.

These weapons and magazines should never be in civilian hands and should be banned. Obviously, this is a tall order given the influence of the gun lobby on the Trump administration and majority party in Congress. But it’s not impossible. Existing weapons can be bought back from owners at a fair market price and destroyed. Australia melted down up to a third of its gun inventory following its deadliest-ever mass shooting in 1996, and has all but eliminated public mass shootings.

The gun lobby claims to champion freedom. Yet every successive large-scale mass shooting leads to an increasing demand for security and a continuing erosion of Americans’ freedom to use public spaces without fear. Citizens need to sustain their outrage over this incident and demand restrictions on ownership of assault-style weapons.


This article originally appeared in Fortune Magazine.




34 thoughts on “Thomas Gabor – How Did the Las Vegas Gunman Get His Hands on a Weapon of War?

  1. “Semiautomatic assault weapons (whose trigger must be pulled to fire each round) have a rate of fire of over 100 rounds a minute. These weapons were banned from 1994 to 2004 under what is commonly referred to as the “assault weapon ban,”…”
    No, not so fast…the criteria of an assault weapon as it was defined in 1994 was a “semiautomatic assault weapon” which included specific semi-automatic firearms models by name, and other semi-automatic firearms that possessed TWO or more features of the following:

    1. Folding or telescoping stock,
    2. Pistol grip,
    3. Bayonet mount,
    4. Flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate one,
    5. Grenade launcher.

    If the semi-automatic had just one of the mentioned features the weapon was legal.

    Also there are two criminology definitions for public shootings, and they are very different.
    Active Shooter Events (ASE), where a person shoots at multiple people in public, though there may be no deaths, and,
    Mass Public Shootings (MPS), public shooting events where four or more people are killed.
    I believe care needs to be given and not do what the FBI did when they created a study of what they labeled “active shooter” events from 2000-2013, and merge both ASEs and MPSs.

    • There are many, many righteous critical responses to make here. I will start with this.
      The guy had a room full of gear and a fortified position. If one rifle jammed and or overheated, that did not slow him down. He could have done a lot of harm with a room full of any kind of semi automatics. Heck, he did not need to reload one
      Military spec ammo for any given round is less lethal than its civilian counterpart because treaty restrictions only apply to military use.

      This situation teaches us little about day to day GVP.

    • Agreed, Alan. the FBI’s definition of “active shooter incidents” is pretty murky. I do think it is important to distinguish between mass shootings and mass murder by gunfire, as the former is based on a count of those shot rather than killed.

  2. It could well be that the Las Vegas shooter could have caused considerable carnage even with a bolt action rifle or a Browning semiauto hunting rifle, given he had set up a scenerio similar to that of Charles Whitman at the Univ. of Texas Library Tower. But then he would have had to aim instead of hose down the musical event. Whitman, I recall, was a former Marine marksman. That made for a formidable situation to overcome.

    The AR ban of the nineties did get a lot of derision from gun people exactly because it used criteria irrelevant to the basic function of the firearm, i.e., calling out bayonet mounts and grenade launchers rather than the ability to put out sustained, high rate of fire with a bullet that can do a lot of damage. I suppose an AR that only shot 22 Long Rifle might not be as much of a problem. At least at long range.

    I am not a psychiatrist, but I wonder if mass shooters prefer “black rifles” because of their paramilitary appearance. The lunatic who shot up Sutherland also dressed out in black, right? Mass shooters are not normal, so those of us who are at least somewhat normal might not understand the nuance. Assuming there is a nuance to understand.

    Regarding Bruce’s comment. I read something in the Neew Yawrker a couple years back calling out social contagion in school shootings as well. Interesting. That creates a bit of pessimism for those of us who like these guns, or even their “sleeper” cousins such as the wood-stock Mini-14. How does one put the mass shooter genie back in the bottle unless we put the rifle back in too?

    • Khal, I agree that some of the criteria used in the definition of an assault weapon in the 1994 ban were irrelevant to its operation. One aspect that is relevant is the ability to spray fire an area as was done in Vegas. As you say, the casualties surpassed those produced by Whitman in Austin by about 10-fold, even though Whitman had been a marksman in the military.

      • Tom
        If the main question is the ability to spray fire into darkness without regard to aiming or accuracy we are talking about fifty million guns in the US.

  3. The most useful question to ask, from the standpoint of preventing mass shootings, is whether the prep intends to target specific people known to him or just the most defenseless… for the sake of getting a higher body count.
    Strategies for prevention would be very different. In particular, deterrence would be important for the later but not so much the former.

  4. Mr. Gabor, you run a Crime/Justice Research & Consulting business and I’m sure with the full service, international research company your clients receive reports that are thoroughly researched and in full detail of that research. I would be surprised if your reports didn’t contain definition of terms.

    In your blog (last sentence) you write: “Citizens need to sustain their outrage over this incident (referring to the Las Vegas shooting on the night of October 1, 2017) and demand restrictions on ownership of assault-style weapons.” Please give us, the reader, your definition of an “assault-style weapon.”

    As I follow news reports, published article, letter to the editor, etc. and reference is made to “assault-style weapons” I have yet to find definitions.


    • Alan (if I may),
      Do you prefer the term “military-style” weapon? In the real world, definitions are imperfect. Definitions of “crime”, “violence”, “terrorism” are constantly evolving. If I was in charge of making policy, I would surround myself with gunsmiths, ballistics experts, etc. and would be less interested in the term used but in identifying those features of a firearm that enable its use in the types of large-scale massacres of civilians we have seen. These features are also evolving as we now see bump stocks that enable a semiautomatic firearm to mimic an automatic one. So, is a semiauto rifle with a bump stock now an automatic weapon?

      In science we use operational definitions in recognizing the imperfect and evolving definitions of things. So my concern is not a term but a description of firearms that are especially capable of mass casualty events. Had the gun lobby not obstructed research funding at the federal level for the last 20 years, we would likely be much farther ahead in determining the firearms that are most likely to enable “large-scale massacres”, another definition that is imperfect. Still, we know from observing some of the most horrific shootings, that the AR-15 type of weapon has often been involved.

      Are you suggesting that until we come up with a perfect definition, we should do nothing to stop the massacres of children and others? It is like saying that we have an antidote for a dire disease, but until we are absolutely certain that it works in every case we will not offer it to those afflicted. The idea that we just have to deal with mental illness is bogus. In any event, the gun lobby obstructs our ability to carefully screen every buyer for mental illness and a record of violence. We have a class of weapons that are involved in many of the worst shootings and they are not defensive or hunting weapons, call them what you will. If we value the lives of our fellow citizens, we need to deal with these weapons promptly.

      • The only difference between offense… murder and legal self defense is intent. Same with the means deployed.
        Gun rights people assume that effective self defense is the real target of gun control people and gun control people rarely disappoint.

      • Ok…before writing 344 words you could have just said, I don’t have a definition.
        Thank you.

  5. No, Alan, the answer is more nuanced than what you are looking for. My objective is to reduce the slaughter of our citizens and not to play games with terminology. I can give you a definition but, as I say, I am interested in features of firearms and not the term used. I would consult with other specialists if I was placed in a position of responsibility to craft legislation.

  6. Hman, do we have to divide all Americans into two extreme groups: gun rights and gun control. Aren’t we divided enough? I would work with people of all viewpoints to develop reasonable compromises and I know others who feel the same way. Nobody is trying to take away your ability to defend yourself. We need to make progress in reducing the daily massacres of our fellow citizens. Do you think we can all make some compromises to save lives? Everybody has to give a little.

    • Do these comprises include regulations on the mass media since they appear to play a role in creating mass murderers? By the way I don’t own an AR and probably never will. Also why does the article have a blind spot on the handguns used to do most of the killing done in mass murders and other places?

      • Bruce, you are right, handguns are involved in much of the day to day gun violence. The original post dealt with the Las Vegas mass shooting and most of the deadliest mass shootings we have seen involve, if I can use the term, military-style weapons. As for the media, they are certainly part of the problem. Someone else can advocate for change on that front.

  7. Tom
    It would be wonderfully clarifying if someone could show a should be banned weapon performing in a way an OK weapon could not.
    Put another way, if you could only see the damage down range could you point out which of several possible weapons inflicted it.
    My question to proponents of astrology has always been this… if you learn about a person’s traits can you tell me when they were born. No one even pretends to be able to do that.
    Same thing with gun types. If you are told what it is, there is no art in making up stories about its characteristic effects. But to only show the effects… good luck telling which of dozens of widely disparate SA designs were the cause.

    • Hman and Alan, What I find interesting in the above discussion is that the gun industry (e.g., Remington) has for years marketed AR-15 type weapons as assault weapons with all forms of lethal attributes. They wanted to appeal to the young set that is fascinated by powerful weapons. They seem to have succeeded with some. It was not the gun violence prevention movement that first characterized these as assault weapons; it was the industry.

    • Don’t know what you’re getting at when you say “A disproportionate number of police are shot with AR-15 type weapons.”

      But I do find the answer given in question #6 of the PoliceOne survey interesting. When asked “What effect do you think a federal ban on manufacture and sale of some semi-automatic firearms, termed by some as “assault weapons,” would have on reducing violent crime?” over 70% answered…none.

      These are people who are on the front line every day or as some would say they are in the “real world.”

      • Alan, what I meant is that 20% of police officers are shot with AR-15 type weapons but these weapons account for a small fraction of all firearms. As far as the police survey, the consensus among researchers is that firearms do not increase the violent crime rate. Rather, they tend to escalate violence and, hence, increase the rate of lethal violence.

  8. Tom
    I would be happy to answer.
    Because AR15s are really good at producing tight control of shot dispersal. In other words, they can be very, very accurate within the normal range of the standard cartride.
    Way better than other as rifles.
    A high end at with high end optics can put all shots under a dime at fifty meters. Plus, the are light years better in terms of ergonomics. An adjustable stock is just the thing for making everything optimized for long range shots. Look up competitive target rifles on google. You will what looks like an AR staring back at you.
    Uno, you could have asked earlier in the thread. If you had, you would have learned the main fact about them and why they have so many fans.

    • Better than other semi autos.
      As I have said, spending bucks thousands on a high end ar is irrelevant to ninty nine per event of what bad guys use guns for.
      That includes mass shooters. You don’t need ight accuracy to shoot people in a church or classroom.

      • Hman, this is my last post on this thread. I am curious in future exchanges as to what you suggest we do to protect civilians from the daily mass shootings. If you oppose any further regulation of even those weapons that have been involved in the deadliest mass shootings, what do you propose we do? The mental illness issue is bogus and there is no one profile of the shooter. And armed citizens almost never intervene successfully in active shooter situations.

      • Armed citizens have not been stopping the shooters in gun free zones where they are not supposed to have any guns in the first place so maybe the value of gun free zones could be a future topic as well.

      • Alan, That was agreement to discuss gun free zones and not a substantive response. However, if you have a final question for this thread, please go ahead. In any event, I will be posting again soon. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.