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Survivor of Las Vegas massacre: Arizonan ponders bump stock verdict

By Sahara Sajjadi | Cronkite News

WASHINGTON — Stock prices are back thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court. Some survivors of the Las Vegas massacre that killed 60 people are not happy.

That includes Justin Uhart, a gun owner who was working as a bartender at a music festival in 2017 when a man named Stephen Paddock fired more than 1,100 shots during a 10-minute shooting spree — a rampage made possible by the use of a device that turns an ordinary rifle into a rapid-fire weapon.

“I support the bump stock ban because we don’t need it,” said Uhart, an Arizona State University graduate, after the Supreme Court struck down the Donald Trump-era ban by a 6-3 vote.

The court majority concluded that bump stocks cannot be considered machine guns and that the Trump-era Justice Department exceeded its authority when it banned the devices.

“A bump stock does not turn a semi-automatic rifle into a machine gun any more than a shooter with a lightning-fast trigger finger can turn it into a machine gun,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the majority opinion.

Those killed in Las Vegas included Brett Schwanbeck of Bullhead City, Christiana Duarte, a graduate of the University of Arizona, and Carrie Parsons, an ASU graduate of Washington state.

The killer opened fire from a window of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino during the Route 91 Harvest music festival on October 1, 2017. In Paddock’s hotel and homes, police found 47 firearms, 12 of which were equipped with a bump stock.

The shooting left hundreds injured and shocked the nation. It was the deadliest mass shooting in modern United States history.

Uhart, a former bartender at El Hefe and the Maya Day Club in Scottsdale, now 32 and a resident of Fernley, Nevada, worked as a bar manager at the festival.

At first he thought the shots were from fireworks, but they didn’t stop.

“I didn’t understand what was going on,” he said. “I thought it was a terrorist attack.”

He ran to the stage and saw a girl who was having convulsions. She later died.

“I was screaming at people: ‘Just go away. Fuck off,'” he recalls.

Concertgoers ran nearby, but some of them formed a cluster that apparently caught the gunman’s attention. As more bullets rang out, Uhart found a hiding place in the lighting control area near the stage.

Concertgoers around him screamed.

A 21-year-old who worked as a security guard was shot just a few meters away.

“I can still see his face. … He didn’t get down fast enough. He got hit a couple of times in the back and head,” Uhart said. “He landed right on my feet and died.”

A girl hiding nearby saw what had happened and “screamed like mad, the worst scream you’ve ever heard in your life.” Uhart covered her eyes to shield herself from the horror.

During a break in the shooting – Paddock was apparently reloading – Uhart and about five to eight others ran to safety. The shooting continued in their direction. A bullet came frighteningly close to his head and knocked him off balance, he reported.

Uhart fell to the concrete. When he got up, he had significant scratches all over his face and saw Jan Lambourne, who was a stranger to him at the time, crawling across the floor, bleeding, to escape.

Uhart tended to her gaping gunshot wound. In the midst of the chaos, he flagged down a deputy sheriff. Together they brought Lambourne to safety.

Once out of the line of fire, Uhart took off his shirt to stop the bleeding until a paramedic arrived. He stayed with Lambourne and talked to her about her cats to distract her and keep her awake, fearing she might go into shock.

“She still says it saved her,” he said.

Since then, he has appeared on Deal or No Deal and won $120,000, which he used to start a carbon sequestration company.

The trauma of that day occasionally recurs. For a while afterward, he kept his weapons “loaded and locked,” he said.

Four months after the Las Vegas shooting, a gunman killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida. Pressure on Washington to combat gun violence increased.

A week before Christmas 2018, President Donald Trump broke with the gun lobby and ordered a ban on bump stocks. He directed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which had resisted calls to ban the devices, to reclassify them and place them under a long-standing ban on automatic weapons.

According to PBS News, there were more than 520,000 bump stocks in circulation in 2019. Before the ban, the devices sold for $180 to $500. After the ban was announced, prices rose to as much as $1,000, according to Bloomberg News.

As Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissenting opinion in the ruling striking down the ban, bump stocks “use the recoil energy of a rifle to move the rifle back and forth and repeatedly ‘bump’ the shooter’s immobile trigger finger, producing rapid fire.”

All three Supreme Court justices appointed by Trump voted to lift the ban.

Senator Mark Kelly (D-Arizona) wrote on X that the ban was “common sense.” His wife, former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords, was shot in the head at a campaign rally in Tucson in 2011. Both are outspoken advocates of gun control.

The National Rifle Association welcomed the ruling as a victory.

Uhart, a gun owner and founder of the Gun Devils at Arizona State, a club dedicated to gun safety and target shooting, was unhappy with the Supreme Court’s decision on bump stocks.

“Weapons are tools, and any tool is dangerous in the wrong hands,” he said.

After firing at concertgoers, Paddock shot himself, authorities said. His death is not counted among the deaths of the 60 people he killed, including two who died much later.

Dennis Champagne, an organizer of a gun show in Arizona, supports the court ruling.

“If the government is allowed to own it, it should also belong to the public,” he said.

Champagne describes the ATF’s reclassification after the Las Vegas massacre as a “Band-Aid” that does not adequately address the causes of the mass shootings.

“If we educate ourselves, provide firearms education in our public schools – whether parents want it or not – and we know about firearms, that would help the most,” he said.

Maya Zuckerberg, president of Arizonans for Gun Safety, said the Supreme Court has put a burden on Congress to eliminate provisions that allow virtually anyone with a few hundred dollars to own a machine gun.

“There is no reason for the general public to increase stock prices,” Zuckerberg said.

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