BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
(This story was originally posted on MyAJC.com on Oct. 2, 2017)
For more than 20 years, I’ve covered concerts and festivals with tens of thousands of people.
For about that same amount of time I’ve frequented casinos, visiting Las Vegas a half-dozen times a year and Atlantic City a few times in between.
At the convergence of these two worlds with Sunday’s tragedy, let me say this:
This wasn’t about concert security.
This wasn’t about casino security.
The atrocity that occurred Sunday night, as 20,000-plus country fans tried to peacefully enjoy the music of Jason Aldean, Jake Owen and others on a lot on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard, was about a madman – and madness cannot be prevented no matter how many metal detectors are erected.
For me, two great loves – one a career, the other a serious, educated hobby – were placed under siege because of the insane actions of a man with a duffel bag stuffed with evil intent.
But as I mourn the loss of the 58 people killed, the hundreds injured, the thousands traumatized, my immediate reaction to seeing grainy social media videos posted to Twitter at 3 a.m. was a wracked sob – I am angry.
I am often in crowds exactly like the one at Route 91 Harvest and bigger – whether it’s Shaky Knees at Centennial Olympic Park, Music Midtown at Piedmont Park, or any thousands of concerts at venues from Philips Arena to Madison Square Garden to the Staples Center – and it often flits through my mind that something horrible could occur, whether it’s the violent actions of drunken buffoons or a deliberate attack. But I take a deep breath, eye the exits and carry on.
The knee-jerk reaction to every one of these twisted events – and we in the media certainly engender it – is to blanket area venues with queries about security.
“Is this going to make you re-evaluate your entry procedures? Will metal detectors become standard in every venue? What could have been done to avert such a tragedy?”
Here is your answer: ALMOST NOTHING.
As my longtime friend and mentor, Deborah Wilker, a veteran arts and live entertainment reporter for Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter, texted me as this gut-punch news unfolded: “I guess now they can start trying to figure out how to put one of their magic perimeters around ALL AIR. This isn’t a security issue. It’s a mental health issue. It’s a gun issue.”
And she’s right.
By all initial accounts, the concert area was staffed with robust security. This didn’t happen on the grounds of the concert site, the Las Vegas Village and Festival Grounds, a 15-acre lot across the street from Mandalay Bay and close to a phalanx of other casinos, including the Tropicana, New York-New York and MGM Grand.
This isn’t a Mandalay Bay security issue, either.
I’m convinced that there is no safer place on the planet than a casino. You don’t think you’re being watched by countless cameras and undercover security every time you tap a slot machine button or stroll into an on-site bar? Just ask Michael Bennett.
Guaranteed, in the coming days, casino camera footage will know many steps this gunman took (and I refuse to glorify his actions by using his name), the trips he made to his car, the bags he carried in, the walks down many hallways.
But short of commanding guests to shove their bags through an X-ray machine before being granted the keys to their room – and even that is no guarantee — what can be done to avoid a lone-wolf attack from someone determined to murder?
So let’s be careful, as details from this emotionally-shattering event unfold, not to misdirect our blame.
No one – no entity, no venue, no performer – can prevent madness.