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Las Vegas shooting: Another harrowing week in the United States

Hell hole: the Las Vegas killer shot from windows he had smashed in his hotel suite. Photo/Getty Images

The aftermath of a mass killing is the ideal time to talk about gun control.

It’s been another harrowing week in the United States, as the horrendous extent of the Las Vegas massacre became known.

The roll call of death mounted by the hour: a nurse from Tennessee was at the concert with his surgeon wife; a mechanic’s apprentice from British Columbia was an only child. Each biographical detail seemed to make the toll heavier and more real.

The victims were children’s parents and parents’ children. One survivor posted from the scene on Facebook that a stranger, whom he named, had just died in his arms. Proper process – the knock at the door by trained police officers bearing bad news – is one more casualty of mayhem in an age of social media.

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The White House pronouncement the day after the shootings that it was too soon to talk about gun control was derided by those who thought there was no better day than when the blood of victims was still wet on the ground. After all, that is the essence of the debate – the right to carry guns versus the right to come home from a concert.

The fact that the perpetrator was neither African-American nor Muslim was greeted with a sense of relief, and it means there is no racial distraction to divert attention from discussion about gun control. It may be too soon for the White House, but the rest of the country began while the bullets were still being fired. The next morning, President Donald Trump tweeted his “warmest condolences”. Naturally.

It was a friend’s casual mention that a neighbourhood near mine once lost power for five days after a hurricane that made me think that perhaps the basement of our rented house was not, after all, simply bonus accommodation for visitors. It prompted me to look at one of those websites that, as soon as you see it, you wish you had not. It is not as if I wasn’t warned: the map is called “Find Your Perils”. You insert your state and up comes every peril with a moderate to high risk of occurring based on data compiled by sensible and reputable agencies – not by Russian-backed Twitter accounts.

The map could profitably be sponsored by a drug company that manufactures sleeping pills, because once you’ve seen it, you won’t be having another good night’s sleep. Here in Maryland, our risks, in alphabetical order, are extreme heat, floods, hurricanes, severe winter weather, thunderstorms and tornadoes. On the bright side, we are not deemed at risk from earthquakes, hail, tsunamis or wildfires.

Bears and alligators, perilous in various places, do not make the cut, I suppose because they are risks only to individuals and not whole neighbourhoods – unless they roam in very hungry families.

Our basement is not prepared as a shelter. It’s where we store our Christmas decorations, so we could make it festive if we were stuck there, though we might not be in the mood for gold tinsel and plastic reindeer, especially since December is not hurricane season and anyway we might have no power for fairy lights. Our suitcases are also in the basement, which would be handy for packing to evacuate, except that if the house was torn apart in a hurricane, all we would have to pack would be decorations.

Water, alcohol, sanitary supplies and chocolate are now on my shopping list as emergency provisions. The problem I used to find in Wellington, and I expect it will be no different here, is that in our house any Friday night without chocolate and alcohol is an emergency, and I know where they are hidden.

Handily, American bread stays white, soft and mould-free for months, which makes it ideal to keep in the basement.

To judge by the suffering we are hearing about in the Caribbean, passports and open tickets out of the country could be the most useful items of all.

This Back to Black column was first published in the October 14, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.