Tragedy in Las Vegas reminds all of us about vulnerability

I encountered something new to me in Platte County on Monday. Perhaps it’s not new to you, but it startled me.

And in light of recent events, especially the shooting in Las Vegas, the world seems a bit different, even in our peaceful Midwestern haven. A police officer stood guard near the cash register at a popular eatery at a shopping district along the Interstate 29 and Barry Road corridor. 

We notice these things more these days.

This place offers both dine in and carry out, patrons move through pretty quickly. I guess that means cash does flow to the register and it’s tempting for robbers.

Perhaps this person was simply being paid as a private security guard, although his shirt said police officer. Either way, I did not envy him. He could be facing a night of total boredom, but it’s a line of work where terror is also possible when least expected.

Breaking news on Monday night was that the 64-year-old Las Vegas shooter shot a security guard on his hotel floor, outside his room door, before he rained deadly fire down on 22,000 country music concert goers from his 32nd floor hotel window. That guard, who was wounded, certainly never expected that kind of trouble.

Nobody knew an extremely troubled individual had a war-like arsenal of guns and ammunition stashed in his room, and he planned to use them.

We’re a country that thrives on the tradition and joy of gathering into throngs to have fun. The first amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives us the right to peacefully assemble. We often think of that right in terms of politics and political rallies, but it’s more.

Art shows, concerts, community picnics, high school football games, Memorial Day services to honor veterans — those things all fall under constitutional privilege, as does the right to bear arms.

The Las Vegas shooting seems so far away in distance and culture. Such things do not seem possible in Platte County.

However, on Saturday I was in Weston for Applefest, which has become one of the Kansas City region’s biggest tourist draws. The weather was perfect, the crowd during my afternoon there enormous. All things ran smoothly from my vantage point. People were shoulder to shoulder on Main Street and sidewalks were full of happy festival goers on the side streets.

I used to not give being in a crowd any thoughts beyond taking in the sights, sounds and the unusual feeling of being around lots of human beings on the move. Now, there is an anxious second thought, a what-if-here feeling.

All veteran newspaper reporters also know well a common quote from tragic stories that occurred in Midwestern towns like ours: “That kind of thing just doesn’t happen around here.”

We must continue to hold and attend festivals and celebrations because such gatherings add soul to our lives. Also, we can surrender anything good to the bad guys, but the possibility of attacks on innocent people gathering for peaceful and joyful purposes is an aggravation for our time in history.

Platte County is in the middle of America’s great divide over guns, too.

I fall in the middle on the issue. I own guns, hunt, and I understand the fun found in target shooting. I do not like the rampant proliferation of guns designed solely to kill people. If I had a magic machine to survey all Platte Countians, I’d bet we’d find the population divided into thirds of pro-gun, anti-gun, in the middle.

There is no simple answer to a complex cultural problem; that’s another aggravation to our time.

Some Platte Countians live in rural areas where a firearm is a handy tool to deal with varmints. Others living in the cities or the rural areas hunt for sport and food, and they are responsible, safe and legal firearms owners.

But not everyone who obtains a firearm and a box of ammunition, or a stash of both, is sensible and filled with goodwill. That’s the dilemma for the security guard battling boredom at the fast food restaurant, and for the person at a town festival who’s haunted by the news.

We pray, hope and try to spread peace in our corner of the world. All generations encounter challenges to courage, this is one of ours.

Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at