More than five years after his son was gunned down in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, Richard Berger asks why.
Why Stephen Berger was killed the day after celebrating his 44th birthday. Why the gunman rained bullets over a Las Vegas country music festival into a bloodbath. Why the massacre’s death toll didn’t shock U.S. leaders into doing more to prevent that kind of violence from happening again and again.
For the Bergers, the families of the other 59 victims in Vegas — and relatives and friends of countless others slain in mass killings in the years since — the questions loom just as large now as when the crimes happened. This year so far, 115 people have died in 22 mass killings — an average of one mass killing a week, reports the Associated Press. That includes Saturday at a Dallas-area mall where eight people were fatally shot.
The total represents the highest number of mass-killing deaths this early in the year since at least 2006, and the deaths were already happening at a record pace before the horror unfolded in Texas.
Experts point to contributing factors: a general increase in all types of gun violence; the proliferation of firearms amid lax gun laws; the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, including the stress of long months in quarantine; a political climate unwilling to change the status quo in meaningful ways; and an increased emphasis on violence in U.S. culture.
The Las Vegas shooter’s motive remains unknown. The high-stakes gambler was angry over how the casinos were treating him despite his high-roller status, but the FBI has never uncovered a definitive reason for the slaughter, which ended with more lives lost than in any single mass killing in decades.
Contributing to 2023′s drumbeat of death: the grisly murder-suicide in Utah that left five children, their parents and their grandmother dead; the fatal shooting of six people, including three 9-year-old children, at an elementary school in Nashville, and back-to-back rampages in California at dance studios and mushroom farms.
Far more frequent are fatal shootings involving fewer than four people and deaths from domestic violence. Suicides make up more than half of the 14,000 gun deaths so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which monitors news media and police reports to compile data.
Still, mass killings provoke the deepest fear.
“People around the country all send their kids to schools — and they worry about if they send their kid to school, are they going to get shot?” said Daniel Webster, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions.
People who study such violence are perplexed by the sustained pace of the brutality.
“We have plenty of examples of things that seem to be at the breaking point in this country,” said Katherine Schweit, a former FBI executive who created the agency’s active shooter protocol after Sandy Hook. “When I was asked to work on this in 2013, I didn’t ever imagine 10 years later I’d still be working on the same thing.”
“I think the United States has a relationship with guns unlike any other country in the world,” said Kelly Drane of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “These events are a consequence of our failure to put in place prevention measures.”