Seek answers in massacre before jumping to conclusions

The only conclusion shocked Americans should draw in the immediate aftermath of the horrifying massacre in Las Vegas is that no conclusions should be drawn until investigators have had more time to learn exactly what happened and why.

Page one of today’s newspaper tells the story: At least 50 people were killed and more than 300 were injured in the most serious mass shooting in U.S. history. Police said the murderer was Stephen Craig Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nev.

Perched in a room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, Paddock mowed down people at an outdoor concert nearby. Police said Paddock killed himself before they forced their way into his room.

What drove Paddock to shed so much blood will be at the top of many people’s lists of questions. Within hours, police had talked to the killer’s brother, who said he had seen or heard no indication Paddock was planning a massacre. A woman described as Paddock’s roommate was being questioned.

One thing seems evident: This was no spur-of-the-moment thing. Paddock engaged in enough planning to obtain a weapon that sounded like a fully automatic rifle — what some people would call a submachine gun. Those are illegal for civilians, except with federal permits that are granted only after background checks. Some legal semi-automatic weapons can be converted for continuous fire, however.

Learning how Paddock obtained his weapons and how he got them and hundreds of rounds of ammunition into the hotel is one question to be answered.

Another is why he engaged in his vicious spree.

Finally, what — if anything — could have been done to prevent the attack?

History tells us it will be that question that results in many knee-jerk reactions. They will range from suggestions certain types of guns be banned to those seeking more security in public places and on public transportation.

Reacting without all the facts would be imprudent, however, for a very simple reason: Devoting energy and resources to the wrong strategy to prevent similar mass murders in the future could divert attention from doing something more effective.

So, before anything is done, we need more information. Then we need to let it help us reach accurate conclusions — even if one of them is that people like Paddock, bent on mass murder, will always find some way to make it happen.