This question is asked after every act of rampage violence and there is still a lot to be determined about the Las Vegas mass shooting. And yet I am pretty certain about why he did it. It’s because he was a jerk. I would prefer to use stronger terms but I am trying to maintain a level of civility in this essay. If this answer is too simplistic at least it has the redeeming quality of being undeniable.
There are two facets to this explanation. First, is in response to the knee-jerk reaction of the mainstream media and social media pundits to label an ideology as the culprit. There is a drive to blame a political party, belief system or certain values as the motivation for murder. As ridiculous as it may seem, people wanted to know who Stephen Paddock voted for in the election with the underlying assumption that everyone else who voted for the same candidate is capable of such evil. After the Texas church shooting, atheists were seen as the next Boogeyman. The reality is that every belief system has an extreme which is illogical and dangerous. A southern proud of their Confederate heritage kills innocents in a church, abortion clinics are blown up and a simple baseball practice for conservative legislators becomes a shooting range for a liberal. It is understandable how politicians will use a tragedy to get more clicks but there is a dangerous tendency to look at the extreme members of any ideology and attribute their inhumanity to the entire population that holds similar beliefs along the continuum. A person may believe in securing the borders and limiting immigration but would never slaughter children at a summer camp just to raise awareness about the issue. I believe that we are being guided by the mainstream media and well funded entities that are generating memes and posts on social media to divide the country by demonizing contrary views and any of its adherents. We have seen this after every mass shooting as the blame directly is placed on the thousands of members of the NRA. Quite simply, after a shooting there is a dangerous push to blame an ideology and vilify anyone who leans in that directions which only feeds the risk factors for the next one. (Note- It is a separate issue when discussing the organizations such as ISIS and Antifa that recruit, coordinate and plan assaults. There is an ideology but it is the organization that must be stopped from their violent intentions. Most mass shooters are of the Lone Wolf variety).
The second point is that there is someone clearly to blame – the shooter but we need to ask why the shooter went to the extreme edge of the ideology to believe that such violence was justifiable. What was it that brought them to such an edge? There are various factors in this complex issue including their stability, mental health, desire for notoriety and deep seated resentment. That last point is key as it demonstrates their pathological selfishness. In other words, they’re jerks. What is critical is that it is possible to help them stop being jerks. Everyone is a jerk to some degree but what stop to you from being a world-class jerk? There is not a simple, one-step solution and law enforcement intervention is critical near the final stages, but there is an entire lifetime of opportunities before they started planning the shooting where people can intervene by providing support, demonstrating compassion and building rapport to help stop someone from falling into such extreme beliefs. If there is one takeaway from this writing, it is that people should be judged individually for their actions. Except for the extreme edges, the broad ideologies, political parties and religious believes themselves, with all of the adherents, should not be viewed as the culprit. This is only dividing the country, further deepening animosities which will lead the jerks to commit more shootings. Sadly, an important step these days, is being very aware of how you were being fed information from the traditional channels and social media. Friendships are lost while debating potential legislation on Facebook when the reality is that everyone has the opportunity to prevent violence by demonstrating compassion and care in their everyday relationships.