Late Sunday evening in Las Vegas, Nev. 64-year-old Stephen Paddock smashed the window of his hotel suite with a hammer and opened fire on the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival from his room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel. The “gunshots lasted for 10 to 15 minutes” according to witnesses, killing, at the time of production, 59 people and injuring 527 more. Las Vegas police said officers found Paddock dead upon arrival and authorities believe he committed suicide.
On June 12, 2016, a shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Fla., where 50 individuals lost their lives, became the deadliest mass shooting in United States history since colonial atrocities. With a continuously rising death toll, the Las Vegas attack has now claimed that title. In a little over a year, two shootings have killed 109 people — a number that surpasses the death tolls of the Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino and Fort Hood shootings combined. Closer to home, this past Tuesday, two Allentown residents were killed in what WFMZ called a “hail of gunfire” at the intersection of Fourth and Washington streets.
So where do we go from here? Should we argue for stronger gun laws and restrictions? Currently, investigators in the Vegas shooting believe that the firearms were purchased legally, several in California. Should we read this as an organized act of terror? Paddock was a white man whose brother claims did not have affiliations with any larger terrorist or hate group. With details still emerging, it is difficult to understand the motivation behind such a heinous act of violence.
With Las Vegas becoming the latest devastating loss of life to strike the United States since Aug. 25 — Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria claimed hundreds more — now is the time for the country, and the Muhlenberg community, to come together.
With hate-filled incidents like this shooting occurring with terrible frequency, a campus-wide conversation about those tragedies is important and necessary. While conversations surrounding these issues may be difficult to begin, President Williams and his senior staff, as the leaders of our college, have a responsibility to ensure that all students are made aware of the resources available to them on campus — regardless of the perceived direct or indirect impacts. To their credit, they have done just that.
Our president is our leader, and in that sense it is his job to model the current Muhlenberg values, and to make sure that students, faculty and staff follow in his lead. While it is easy to condemn every worldly tragedy through e-mail and suggest proper outlets for healing, taking steps to improve the happenings in this world — even those within the Muhlenbubble — is an entirely different matter. So it follows that communicating with the community solely through an email may not always be sufficient. Students, and all members of the College community, not only want more from our leaders, but deserve it.
We need more events like the teach-in held last February in reaction to this past election. We need events like the Town Hall held two years ago, and the corresponding Town Hall reactions and equity meeting. We need conversations and dialogues, not just e-mails or office hours.
But that burden does not fall solely on our President. Children in preschool are practicing active shooter drills, and yet the Muhlenberg student body cannot seem to have an open and honest, face-to-face conversation. When we live in an age constantly in fear that the next concert, shopping trip, movie or day at school may be our last — where more people died at the hands of senseless violence in an evening than there are weeks in a year — virtual condolences and hashtagged support do not cut it. We can’t expect the outside world to change if we, ourselves, cannot make this change within the bounds of our campus. Change starts at home.