On Friday, Las Vegas undersheriff Kevin C. McMahill told the media that the motive underlying Stephen Paddock’s monstrous rampage remains a mystery. It’s truly bizarre that almost a week after the shooting we have no insight into what set Paddock off. Generally speaking, mass murderers kill in order to send a message, or because they’re seriously mentally ill.
Dylann Roof was a racist who killed to strike fear into the hearts of African Americans; Timothy McVeigh considered himself a revolutionary, and lashed out at “tyrannical government” over the Waco siege; Adam Lanza was autistic, obsessive-compulsive, likely schizophrenic, and became obsessed with school shootings.
Paddock, though clearly morally empty and repulsive, retained enough lucidity to craft his deadly scenario with meticulous precision. He selected a specific floor and room to provide maximum shooting advantage, smuggled guns and ammunition into the hotel undetected, utilized specific modifications on his weapons to increase devastation, and even planted cameras outside the room so that he could see the police coming for him. Mark Steyn pointed out that, in many ways, Paddock’s actions more closely resembled those of a professional hitman than those of his mass-shooting predecessors. The careful planning suggests Paddock had some form of motive.
So if Paddock wasn’t a paranoid schizophrenic facing a complete mental break, what message was he trying to send? We know now that he didn’t leave a note; he didn’t leave revealing internet search histories; he didn’t turn himself over to the police so he could enjoy his infamy. Is it possible that he simply had no motive or message? Perhaps, but alternatively, author Mark Steyn shared a theory on Friday sent to him by a reader whom he describes as a "gentleman at a London think tank." The reader’s theory, which is worth reading in its entirety, even if just as a thought experiment, arrives at a motive that seems to check nearly every box.
It must be underscored, however, that there is no hard evidence whatsoever that this was indeed Paddock's motive. What follows is purely speculative on the self-described think-tank member's part.
The emailer's theory is essentially one of inception. What has everyone been talking about non-stop since Monday morning? Gun control. And why are we talking about gun control? Because the sheer number of guns and ammunition Paddock sneaked into room 135 on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel is astounding. As a result, the story immediately focused on the guns: Were they automatic? What kind of guns were they? How were they modified? Where did he get them from?
The other distractions and storylines that typically arise weren’t available in this shooting. It was a white shooter, going after mostly white people at a country music concert. That means, as Steyn points out, no shifting narratives toward white-supremacy to draw attention away from the guns. Paddock seemingly had no political or religious affiliations; it wasn’t triggered by a domestic dispute, nor was it work related; it doesn’t appear to be the result of a psychotic break. All of this leaves nothing but the firearm narrative on the table.
Police found 47 guns between the killer’s hotel room and two of his homes. Twenty-three were with him in his room in the Mandalay Bay Hotel. And by all accounts, a large quantity of ammunition was still left in the hotel room following the massacre. Steyn’s reader notes Paddock “spent days filling his hotel room with more weapons and ammunition than he could ever conceivably use along with an array of advanced modifications and accessories." Which begs the question: Why did he spend energy and time sneaking all those firearms into the hotel knowing that when bullets started flying, he wouldn’t get the chance to use even half of what he had on hand?
The writer of the email quoted in Steyn’s article believes the answer to motive is “publicity." Specifically, that “this man [Paddock] wished to telegraph to America in graphic form the hard irrefutable evidence that guns and gun ownership, and the ease of gun purchase in America are an evil and must be controlled. On that hypothesis, everything now makes sense."
There’s no hard evidence whatsoever to support this theory, of course, but one must admit, with the meager information we currently have at hand, it makes some sense. Steyn’s reader believes that Paddock did leave a message, “it only happens to be implicit instead of explicit. That message is ‘guns.’ And that message is being trawled over every minute of every day on every network in America."
Last week, Ben Shapiro wrote an article explaining Roy Baumeister’s classifications of evil in the world. It was a challenge lumping Paddock into one of the four types of evil, which made him even more unusual. If it is the case, however, that Paddock believed he was killing for “righteous” ends, this is clearly sinister idealism at work.
If Paddock’s goal was to shock the U.S. into banning guns, or passing strict gun control, as the think tank member suggests, it means the bombshell answer explaining what drove a man to murder so many innocents is never coming. If it’s true, it means that Paddock planted the seed of an idea — that gun control is necessary — that is already tearing through the United States like a cancer. It’s an interesting theory, but I hope that it’s wrong. Stephen Paddock has devastated too many lives already. The idea of his murderous actions posthumously influencing our world more than they already have is hard to stomach.
This article has been revised for clarity.