Hours after a 64-year-old man smashed open his hotel room window and opened fire on an outdoor music festival down below, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said there was no way anyone could have stopped the nation’s deadliest mass shooting from taking place.
“This is an individual described as a ‘lone wolf,’” Lombardo said at a news conference Monday. “I don’t know how it could have been prevented if we didn’t have any prior knowledge of this individual.”
All over America, law enforcement officials, politicians and hotel and concert managers offered the same sad lament: There’s very little, they said, that could be done. Banning outdoor events won’t stop this type of mass violence, they argued. And many rejected suggestions of tighter security at sporting events and concerts, citing high costs and difficult logistics.
“This country has so many public venues and it’s built on the premise of free assembly for whatever purpose — for political purposes, for religious purposes or even just for amusement, as was the case here,” said Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police. “It’s hard to say what more could be done that hasn’t been done short of curtailing the American way of life, which I don’t think is a particularly good idea.”
Major league sports already requires patrons to go through metal detectors. Security personnel are omnipresent at concerts. Big hotels have sophisticated security systems and well-trained staffs looking out for trouble.
The Las Vegas music festival was fully staffed with security personnel. And law enforcement was well aware of the potential for such incidents, particularly after the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub last year.
Matt Puckett, executive director of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, which represents about 26,000 police officers, recalled Florida lawmakers discussing steps that could be taken. Barring big outdoor events was not on the list.
“I don't think shutting down outdoor venues would be something that would work,” he said, citing manpower and logistical problems. “Florida is a tourist-based, outdoor-based economy.”
Even the simplest solution — more security personnel — is not the answer. No one anticipated a gunman was waiting for the right moment to shoot Las Vegas concertgoers from above at the nearby Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, killing as many as 59 people and wounding hundreds more.
Sports events could be a particularly appealing target, with tens of thousands of fans and national television attention. In recent years, metal detectors have become a regular feature at arenas and stadiums to prevent weapons from being smuggled inside.
Hotels have different challenges, particularly in a city such as Las Vegas, where mega-resorts have thousands of windows, and thus opportunities, for mayhem.
In a statement, the American Hotel & Lodging Association didn’t say how hotels might change their protocol now that a member of its network had been used as a base to launch a violent crime.
“As a business that is centered on serving the public, no issue is more important than safety and security,” AHLA President and CEO Katherine Luga said. “Hotels have safety and security procedures in place that are regularly reviewed, tested and updated as are their emergency response procedures. As we better understand the facts in the coming days, we will continue to work with law enforcement to evaluate these measures.”
Could the Mandalay Bay Hotel have anything done differently? Experts said there were few if any ways the staff could have detected the degree of danger the suspected shooter, Stephen Paddock, posed. He had no criminal record and was somehow able to keep at least 17 firearms in his room without attracting attention from members of the housekeeping crew.
Sgt. John Krupinsky, who has spent more than three decades at the police department in Danbury, Conn., said aside from mom-and-pop operations, hotels tend to have good security. Casinos, he said, have particularly strong security.
Hotel workers, he said — primarily people at the front desk — are often the first to call police.
Pasco said that unless hotels were going to start mandating luggage and room searches, there’s nothing to stop someone from hiding weapons in a bag or closet and going undetected.
Besides, he pointed out, even if Paddock had left his guns out in the open, he would have not been doing anything illegal. The state does not prohibit an individual from carrying a gun or even limit how many guns he or she might have at any given time. Nevadans are able to possess automatic assault weapons and machine guns so long as they are registered.
Because Paddock, who was found dead in his hotel room after the shooting, lacked any record with law enforcement, it could be he obtained his weapons legally, background checks and all.
One obvious way of preventing such tragedies would be curbs on guns, but that’s highly unlikely to happen.
Republicans, who control the White House and both chambers of Congress, are not expected to allow any such measure to move through the legislative process. The party has longstanding relationships with a pro-Second Amendment base and the powerful National Rifle Association.
President Donald Trump also declined to call for Congress to take action on guns on Monday, instead calling for thoughts and prayers. His press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, later said it was not the time to politicize a tragedy.
Tom Ridge, the first secretary for Homeland Security under President George W. Bush following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, suggested in a statement that unspeakable tragedies were simply unavoidable.
“While we mourn the loss of life and pray for the recovery of those wounded, we must remember that, by definition, democracies are soft targets, vulnerable to madmen at home or terrorists from afar,” he said.
Joseph Cooke contributed to this report.