BORN AND RAISED: VEGAS STRONG

Yesterday morning, I drove to the Strip for the first time since Sunday’s mass shooting. Aside from checking my GPS to see what roads, if any, were still closed, I didn’t think too much about the impact this would have on me.

And then I got there.

As I headed east on Tropicana and approached Las Vegas Boulevard, it hit me like a brick wall (as a writer and someone who hates clichés, I would love to avoid that phrase, but there is no better way to put it). The digital marquee outside of the MGM didn’t boast a bare-bellied girl pouring an electric-blue liquid into shot glasses, or a sleek, skinny-lettered advertisement for KÀ, as I’d expect. Instead, it boasted the Vegas Strong graphic that’s been making its way around casino properties these past two days. A simple black background, with words that read: “We were there for you during the good times. Thank you for being there for us now. #VegasStrong.”

The effect it had on me was far more than I expected and, as I took inventory of all of the other digital marquees that were in my line of sight at that point, I noticed they, too, displayed that exact same graphic. Every single one.

No $3 Well Shots!

No The Loosest Slots in Town!

No Come see our girls!

Just Vegas Strong.

I’ll be the first to admit, as someone who longs to be by the water and enjoys nothing more than being outside (and still being able to breathe) on a summer day, I don’t always have the kindest words to offer about the city I was born and raised in. I often tell people I can’t wait for my husband to finish law school so we can move to Lake Tahoe. I joke that there’s nothing to do here, that I’d never raise children here, that I once burned my dogs paws by taking him on a bike ride at 7 a.m. one morning...in May. (That last one is an actual anecdote, not a joke. It happened. I’m a terrible dog-mom. Shame me.)

But as I drove on the Strip today, my heart broke for the victims of Sunday night’s shooting, their families and, yes, any terrible thing I’ve ever uttered about my hometown. I didn’t think about the unbearably hot summers or the overpriced steakhouses or the fact that you can never, ever walk in a casino without walking out reeking of cigarette smoke. Instead, I thought about my childhood—much of which took place in the very casinos that I now am so quick to denounce.

My brother and I had a fairly unusual and extremely fortunate childhood. We rolled around with white tiger cubs on the carpeted floors of the Mirage executive offices. We ran around back-of-the-house as if we owned the place. We hosted birthday parties in private poolside cabanas where we treated our friends to fresh fruit plates and virgin daiquiris. We met Cal Ripken and hung out in the Orioles’ dugout. We spilled Coca-Cola on duvets that cost more than our mom’s car. We walked to the front of long casino buffet lines with passes that read “VIP/COMP.” We stayed in villas that had their own pool, equipped with TVs that arose out of the bedframe at the press of a button. We painted with Dale Chihuly at his boathouse in Seattle, where he spent the afternoon showing my brother and me his accordion collection and letting us swim in his indoor pool (the bottom of which boasts tons of his blown glass pieces covered in a single plexiglass sheet—you literally can walk on art) and, most importantly, teaching us to paint using the tools and methods he did. Afterward, he took us for calamari and explained to me that what we were eating was squid—and I remember thinking, as a nine-year-old girl at the time, that that would be the coolest thing I ever did in my entire life: ate squid with Dale Chihuly. I was right.

My family was not wealthy by any means. All of this was thanks to my mom’s career as an executive assistant to casino owners.

In other words, all of this was thanks, in large part, to Las Vegas, to my hometown.

So when I saw the Strip today—in all of its colorful, eclectic, dusty-day-time glitz—I was immediately brought back to my childhood, to how I used to see the Strip as a child. Not as a place laden with drunk tourists and terrible traffic and overpriced cocktails, but as a place where magic happened.

It didn’t take long for the tears to come.

I was crying for the victims—the children’s football coach, the veteran, the selfless men who died shielding women from gunfire, the police officer, the college students, the commercial fisherman—who lost their lives in what was the most recent of the 521 mass shootings that have occurred in the past 477 days.

I was crying for the fact that my work week involved nothing but creating communications and content for a slew of selfless, big-hearted clients who wanted to do something, anything to help—to donate meals for first responders or offer donation-based haircuts or donate the week’s proceeds to the Las Vegas Victims’ Fund.

I was crying for the fact that we have a leader—love him or hate him—who is the most divisive president in American history, who—whether through thoughtless acts or strategically selfish ones, or a combination of both—only serves to deepen the divide in our country, who digs up, exposes and feeds on the dark, diseased, divided roots that rumble their way beneath this country’s foundation.

I was crying for the fact that, as I sat at a stoplight on Las Vegas Boulevard and watched unmarked vehicles pass in front of me, I wasn’t thinking: Great, the President is here to help. Instead, I immediately thought: Anyone but him.

Anyone but him to address this great city today. Anyone but a leader who does anything but lead. Obama, George W. Anyone.

And, as is typically the case with someone such as myself who gets uncomfortable when vulnerable emotions rear their plum-colored head, the anger followed. And I am aware that this is where I will lose many of you, that this is where I’ll turn into the victim-disrespecting, free-loving, tree-hugging, going-to-take-your-guns! liberal that I realize my conservative friends often see me as. But that’s fine. I just watched a massacre break its ugly, sticky, bulbous way through my city’s front door. I can live with upsetting a few readers.

So let’s talk gun control, shall we?

No ordinary citizen needs access to military-grade weapons. Period. They have no place in hunting, and no place in self-defense. Hunters who treat the activity as they should—as a sport and a skill—would never use a semi-automatic rifle to fire twenty rounds of bullets into their prey. And, as far as self-defense goes, my grandfather taught me a shotgun will do just fine.

I’ve heard people argue that shooting semi-automatic weapons “is fun” and that it’s not a hobby they’re "willing to give up." You know what else is fun? Driving my car 110 mph down the freeway with my eyes closed—but I’m willing to make a sacrifice and not do that in the name of saving lives. I think of the recent story an Australian friend told me about how, after 35 innocent people died in the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, Australians showed up in droves to hand over their long guns, which the government bought back from them. (Her exact words were, “people were more than willing to do anything to prevent another shooting of its kind from happening.” Think about that: more than willing.) And here we are saying, “Keep all of your guns, just hand over the really insane ones that were meant for military use, the ones that were designed to take out masses of people in minutes.” And how do Americans who claim to love this country, to have respect for the victims of its incredible number of mass shootings, to be unwaveringly “pro-life” respond? By arguing that “it’s just too much fun to shoot a machine gun.” The selfishness of that is something that I will never, ever be able to understand.

Will a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines prevent every single mass shooting? Of course not. But does that mean we shouldn’t try? Do we legalize heroin because “addicts will always find a way to get it”? Do we get rid of the requirement you must have a license and insurance to drive a vehicle because some people will always get behind the wheel without one or the other? Laws aren’t perfect—and they take time get right—but they certainly have a place in our society—especially if that place ends up saving the life of a single American civilian or first responder.

What fires me up the most about anti gun-control people is that they’re essentially working for the same swamp they want to drain without even realizing it; they’re lining the pockets of politicians, lobbyists and special-interest groups by perpetuating carefully crafted messages that have been fed to them via Fox News, InfoWars and other right-wing media outlets.

The NRA, in fact, was originally founded as an organization focused on training and marksmanship—but in recent history has shifted its focus to profits and political gain. America's obsession with semi-automatic weapons is a relatively new one (20 or 30 years ago, no one would have argued that everyday citizens "need" to have access to assault rifles), and is the result of a major push, on the NRA's part, to increase its own profits. They're brilliant at messaging.

In short, the NRA has learned to appeal to, prey on and take advantage of humans' most basic instincts (our desire to feel safe, to play the hero; our fear of those who don't look like us, etc.) in the name of increasing its profits. They've carefully crafted strategic messages that half of our nation has unfortunately adopted and clung to—and, as a result, the NRA gets to sit back and watch as well-meaning Americans do their dirty work for them—preaching about and fighting to protect their “second amendment rights,” when ultimately they’re really compromising their own safety and lining the NRA's pockets.

Next up, let’s talk hypocrisy:

The party of “individual rights” is the same party that works tirelessly to limit women’s access to health care or birth control. The same party that is endlessly, ridiculously, insanely “pro-life,” does nothing about the fact that, as Americans, we are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than citizens in any other developed country. The same party that aims—with an absolutely frightening level of enthusiasm—to regulate the eggs in my uterus and chip away at my individual freedom of choice as a woman every single day claims that, when it comes to guns, regulations don’t work and the government should never be able to tell you what to do or how to do it.

Unless you’re a woman seeking birth control or an abortion.

Unless you’re a gay man or woman seeking to marry.

Unless you’re trans person seeking to use the bathroom of the gender with which you identify or selflessly serve in our military.

A brown person from a country whose name we can’t pronounce attacks us and we're more than willing to give up a slew of individual freedoms without batting an eye—we take our shoes off at airports, walk through body scanners that aren't great for our health, allow strangers to pat us down and/or sift through our belongings in public—the list goes on. Yet, when terrorism comes to us in the form of a white man rather than one who looks different from us—when the country of its origin isn't a place that scares us but rather the United States of America—the same party that claims to be anti-terrorism and pro-life refuses to enact a single piece of legislation to help prevent further loss of life.

Fox News pundits have repeatedly said this week, “We need time to mourn before we politicize this,” or, “Now is not the time for a gun-control debate.” Yet, the night of and day after the Orlando shooting those same exact anchors, hosts and authorities did not shy away from talking about legislation that needed to be enacted to stop Muslims from coming to our country. (“In the wake of this attack, you wonder whether people like that should be coming here,” or, “Anybody who’s coming from overseas—especially the Middle East—we need to vet them out.”) So, why then, when the attacker is a white multi-millionaire does the country suddenly need to back off of political debates?

And while we’re on the subject, those same Fox News anchors who claim it’s disrespectful to engage in political debates in the days following the massacre have had no problem calling out athletes who kneel for the National Anthem, and I'd consider that "engaging in a political debate." As Trevor Noah brilliantly pointed out, those same pundits have now used the shooting to pivot back to their feelings on the First Amendment—especially as it applies to African Americans exercising their First Amendment rights.

When a black athlete kneels—peacefully—as a way to draw attention to the police brutality problem we have in this country, we suddenly don’t care so much for constitutional rights. We suddenly think we should be able to scale back First Amendment rights. We claim it’s disrespectful to law enforcement who risked their lives on Sunday night to exercise our First Amendment rights in the wake of the shooting.

Or, in another attack on the First Amendment, let’s talk about Trump’s desire to “open up libel laws.” “Opening up” libel laws is, indeed, altering the First Amendment. Yet his crowds cheered—enthusiastically—for this. Explain to me, then, how the First Amendment does not extend to journalists who report stories you do not like, to athletes who protest in a way that makes you uncomfortable—while the Second Amendment applies to everyone (even those with mental illness and on the no-fly list) and every single piece of weaponry you can imagine?

Finally, I’d like to end this by communicating the fact that I have nothing but respect for the victims and their families, for the first responders who ran toward the gunfire, for the men and women who risk their lives every single day for our country.

And it is out of this respect—rather than out of a lack of it, as so many will argue—that I have to believe we can do better.

Better than two-days’ worth of social media "thoughts and prayers" before we sink sullenly, yet swiftly, back into absolute, unapologetic inaction.

Better than accepting that evil exists and that’s there’s nothing the most powerful nation on the planet can do about it.

Better than writing off the idea of enacting any type of legislation because such legislation “won’t stop every single case.”

Better than mindlessly repeating fraudulent messages that have been fed to us by private-interest groups, rather than forcing ourselves to think independently.

Better. Just better.

I’d like to encourage those who’ve made it this far to donate—however much they can afford—to the Las Vegas Victims’ Fund.

And, for those who feel the same way I do, call your representatives—every single day—and ask what it is they plan to do to help prevent something like Sunday night’s massacre from happening again in our great Silver State. And, while you’re at it, call Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s office and ask why the Attorney General refuses to implement the Nevada Background Check Initiative, which Nevadans, who Laxalt was elected to and is paid to represent, voted into law in 2016. Ask him how much of the $6.5 million the NRA spent fighting that initiative in our state is in his pockets. Ask him if knows how democracy works. Ask him anything you want—but just pick up the phone and start demanding answers. 

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto:

P: (702) 388-5020

P:(775) 686-5750

Senator Dean Heller:

(702) 388-6605

(775) 686-5770

Attorney General Adam Laxalt:

775-684-1100

702-486-3420