Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Painful Reality Check

Last Thursday, 3 people died & 3 more were seriously injured on Las Vegas Strip as a taxi cab was caught in the midst of a roadside shooting. Since then, there's actually been some introspection on the state of gun violence in Southern Nevada. And as expected, LVCVA is going out of its way to spin this story away... But will it work this time?

“What’s really important early on is to put everything in context,” said Lori Nelson, vice president of corporate communications at Station Casinos and a crisis communications expert. “It’s easy for a situation to get blown out of proportion, and it was good for the LVCVA to convey that what happened on the Strip on Thursday was an isolated incident.” [..]

“I think the message we sent was that we were an innocent bystander, just like Las Vegas was a bystander in this most recent incident that could have happened anywhere,” she said.

But some critics aren’t buying it. They say the LVCVA’s “What happens here, stays here” campaign and some of the attractions available to visitors can be interpreted as community permissiveness toward fast cars, alcohol, guns, sex and drugs.

While overall crime slipped last year, the recent string of Strip shootings may be spooking tourists. It's a real concern that can't be dismissed. After all, Nevada has one of the highest gun death rates in the nation. Just look at this AP report on the early fallout from last Thursday's Strip shooting.

But real guns remain permissible. Nevada's relaxed gun laws, including the ability to carry them openly, have made Las Vegas an attractive spot for shooting ranges and gun shows. Some observers think police should step up their presence on the Strip, just as they did after three slayings in 2011.

"Clearly they should be looking into this because they have had a string of incidents now, and while they've all been random incidents, they all did happen," said David Schwartz, the Director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. [...]

But with violent crime, as with so much else in Vegas, perception may outweigh reality. As a place built on the promise of letting loose, the city must work extra hard to banish all fear of danger, said Tony Henthorne, a marketing professor at the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration in Las Vegas.

"It's important for any destination that relies on tourism for a major percentage of its income to appear safe," he said, "and also actually to be safe."

And that especially rings true here in Nevada. With the state still so highly dependent on gaming & tourism, we can't afford for tourists to keep away because of perceived and/or actual danger.

Yet the danger remains. Nevada scored a measly 5 out of 100 in The Brady Campaign's scorecard on gun safety. And even though he's been denied firearms access for 1 year, it's still scary to think that Steven Brooks came very close to buying a rifle! (What if he hadn't received so much media attention?)

This is a real problem. While the gun lobby continues to spout wild conspiracy theories and extreme rhetoric, real people keep dying. And if Congress fails to act on meaningful gun safety reform, voters will take note.

Haven't we suffered enough? Can we handle more of the same on gun violence?

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