Stephen Paddock fired hundreds of rounds out of a 32nd story window in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Sunday night, police have said, killing 59 and injuring over 500 in the deadliest mass shooting in recent US history.
Paddock had no military training. According to Paddock’s family and the ongoing police investigation, he had a penchant for guns and some experience hunting. But there is no indication he had formal training.
Nevertheless, he managed to kill dozens and wound hundreds from 32 stories above the ground and a distance of three to five football fields between him and his victims.
The reason he was able to carry out the massacre lies largely with the tools at his disposal and the completely helpless nature of his targets.
Some of the weapons had scopes to increase his effective range. The length of the bursts of fire suggest Paddock likely used extended magazines to store many times a firearm’s normal capacity in ammunition.
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All of Paddock’s guns legally belonged to him. Nevada, where Paddock lived, allows the sale of high-capacity magazines, high-caliber weapons and ammunition, and military-style weapons, but it doesn’t allow fully automatic weapons.
Paddock got around the limitation of government-mandated semi-automatic weapons by using something called a “bump stock,” which effectively turns a semi-automatic rifle into an automatic, according to The Associated Press.
The other factor in Paddock’s rampage was the nature of the target. In recent memory, never has so heavily armed an attacker, from such a concealed, elevated vantage, unloaded with such fury on such an unsuspecting, helpless crowd.
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From 300 to 500 yards away, the crowd of 22,000 were essentially “fish in the barrel,” which is how country singer Jake Owens, who was on stage in Las Vegas, described that night. It wouldn’t take a military operative or master marksman to inflict grievous damage on a crowd with the tools Paddock had available.
Paddock simply rained down bullets on an unsuspecting crowd that was focused on the stage. Because bullets from high-powered rifles travel at supersonic speeds, the first shots probably hit the victims before the sound of the rifle even rang out.
Another force that began to drive casualties was the resulting chaos that ensued.
“It was a wide range of injuries, from gunshots to shrapnel wounds, to trample injuries, to people trying to jump fences,” said Greg Cassell, chief of the Clark County Fire Department.