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23 Days Ago: A Personal Reflection on Las Vegas

By Congressman Brad Wenstrup

It has been only 23 days since America woke up to news that was enough to send a nation reeling. Images of people ducking and dashing for cover flashed across every T.V. screen. Sirens blared. Twitter was on fire. Watching it, even from afar, was enough to send adrenaline snapping through our veins and make our hearts stiffen against the walls of our chests. It’s the kind of nightmare no one wants to wake up to -- let alone live through.

Yet our collective pain pales in comparison to those who woke up in a hospital room that Monday morning, or with an empty spot in the bed beside them. For those who lost a loved one, life will never be the same. The news cycle has moved on, the policy debates will continue, but the hollow sound of those gunshots ripping across the Vegas Strip will echo in their souls for years to come. We can never undo this evil. We can never get back what was lost.

58 dead. Over 500 wounded. The killer had an arsenal of weaponry and specifically selected his strategic location to enable him to incur as much terror as possible. His careful planning resulted in the breaking news headlines that seem to have become all too common: the deadliest mass shooting in modern United States history. As some commentators have pointed out, the American casualty count for this shooting is higher than any single day of battle in Iraq or Afghanistan.

For me, it brings back my own memories of another day – not too long ago – when an everyday event in America turned into a combat zone. A quiet morning on a baseball field was interrupted by the crack of gunshots. Only in Las Vegas, the scale is almost too much to grasp. In times like these, we dig for words to correctly encapsulate the tumult raging in the corridors of our minds. Tragic. Senseless. Unimaginable. But each word, once rendered on our tongue, is inept at carrying the confusion and horror and pain inside. For those that can, we pull our children a little closer. We bow our heads for a moment of prayer.

The shoulders of our nation are bent under the weight of such raw, blistering grief. There will continue to be a conversation on these issues, as President Trump has promised. Personally, as a doctor, I think about prevention:  how do we preempt and prevent individuals with such evil intentions from acting before they are able to carry out their actions? Some immediately clamor for more gun control, but it’s clear that won’t accomplish this purpose.  I believe the conversation needs to be broadened to include targeted tactics to protect those most at risk of becoming victims of violence, prevent potential perpetrators, and address mental healthcare. There are no easy answers. The solution is not black and white. What is black and white is the pure, unadulterated evil that would motivate an individual to inflict such violence and terror on innocent Americans enjoying a concert on an ordinary Sunday night, playing baseball at 7:00AM in the morning, or simply going to work in a government building.

As much as we’d like to, we cannot fully stop this evil in its many forms or legislate it away. However, we can examine the who, what, when, where, and why -- and evaluate what actions, if any, may be taken to prevent violent behavior and blunt the damage of such events in the future, without infringing on the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens. May we stand united as a nation against those at home or abroad who wish us harm. As we search for solutions, though, let us also remember to continue to take the time to collectively grieve.

Let’s continue to learn the stories of the victims and to remember their lives. 58 unique individuals. The world will miss out on their potential, their perspective, their laughs, and their lives. It’s a hole that can’t be filled. It is a time to stand beside those suffering this gut-wrenching loss, however we can. It’s also a time to honor the heroes of that night, like the many courageous law enforcement officers and first responders who rushed to the scene. Honor the 29-year-old Marine veteran, Taylor Winston, who used a stolen truck to drive critically injured victims to safety – saving the lives of nearly 30 people. Honor off-duty paramedic Dawn-Marie Gray and her husband, Kevin, who stayed in the line of fire to check pulses, offer care, and load victims into waiting vehicles until the paramedics arrived. There were many more unsung heroes that night. Ordinary Americans who risked their lives for someone else, often strangers. Each of them demonstrates the fact that, even evil to this extent – the kind that our minds struggle to grasp -- cannot stamp out the good in this world.

As we teeter on the edge of such sadness in the wake of this tragedy, it is the tug that pulls at many of our hearts. A pull that reminds us that there is good, and that the good of so many is of much greater proportion than the evil of the one.