Survivors of Las Vegas shooting stunned by Supreme Court gun ruling

Image source, Getty Images

Image description, Heather Gooze survived the 2017 mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival that led to the first ban on bump stocks

  • Author, Kayla Epstein
  • Role, BBC News

On October 1, 2017, Heather Gooze was serving drinks at the Route 91 Music Festival in Las Vegas when concertgoers stormed her bar, screaming and covered in blood.

A gunman sitting high up in a Las Vegas hotel opened fire on the festivities below him. He killed 60 people and injured over 400 others. He was able to carry out what remains the deadliest mass murder in US history because he attached a mechanism called a “bump stock” to his weapon.

After the massacre, then-President Donald Trump banned bump stocks, a modification that allows a rifle to fire like a machine gun. It was a rare example of the U.S. changing its gun policy after a mass killing, and it was a reform that survivors of the attack welcomed.

The ban was all the more unusual because it was introduced by a Republican president and supported by the National Rifle Association, figures who would normally oppose gun control proposals.

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ban, ruling in a 6-3 decision that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had exceeded its authority to ban the device.

For survivors like Ms. Gooze, who describes herself as liberal and thinks Trump's ban was “phenomenal,” the ruling felt like a step backwards for the country.

“Who has ever used a bump stock for a good cause?” she told the BBC. “There is no reason for a civilian to use a mass shooting machine.”

Ms Gooze, 50, still remembers the panic as she helped people escape the carnage and the desperate struggle to save those hit by the more than 1,000 bullets fired by the gunman using a modification to his weapon.

“I had my finger in the bullet hole in the back of one of our angels' heads,” she said of one victim she tried to save. She stayed with the body of another victim for hours, using a phone she found in his pocket to contact the family.

“I have seen other people’s lives change right before my eyes, including my own,” she said.

One of those lives was that of Brittany Quintero. Ms. Quintero was separated from her friend in the chaos of the shooting, and although both survived, she has spent years processing the trauma the shooting caused.

She told the BBC that she was shocked by the Supreme Court's decision.

“Honestly, it feels like another slap in the face,” she said.

Quintero, 41, said she doesn't necessarily believe stricter gun laws would help prevent mass shootings. She also believes the proposed solutions don't address mental health enough.

“I don't believe that taking away Second Amendment rights will solve these recurring problems,” she said, referring to the protections for gun owners enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

“If a man sets his mind to doing something, he will find a way or some other means.”

But despite her reservations, she still believes the Supreme Court was wrong to reinstate access to bump stocks.

Route 91 survivors were not universally discouraged by the Supreme Court's decision. Several discussed the news in a private Facebook group, Ms. Gooze said, and some members of the community responded that they were not concerned by the ruling.

“It's not about guns, we need them to preserve the few freedoms we have left. The enemy is the government,” one survivor wrote in a message read to the BBC by Ms Gooze.

Gun violence remains a major public safety problem in the United States. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 215 mass shootings in the United States so far in 2024 (their methodology defines a mass shooting as a situation in which four or more people are shot or killed, not including the shooter).

Both Ms Gooze and Ms Quintero lamented that the gun debate had become so politicized.

“I don’t think I will ever see a real law or a real decision in my lifetime that solves the problem of gun violence,” Ms. Gooze said.

Repeated attempts to ban bump stocks through federal law have stalled and, given the divided Congress, have little chance of passage in the near future.

Trump, who is running for president again, said he would respect the Supreme Court's decision to overturn his policies and reiterated his support for broader access to guns.

“The court has spoken and its decision should be respected,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt said in a statement. “President Trump has been and will always be a fierce defender of Americans' Second Amendment rights, and he is proud to be endorsed by the NRA.”

In a video on X (formerly Twitter), the gun shop owner who challenged the bump stock ban in the Supreme Court celebrated his victory and said he had stopped the government from banning other gun parts.

The nation's highest court agreed with his argument that the Trump administration exceeded its authority when it tried to regulate bump stocks like machine guns.

“I persevered and fought,” said gun shop owner Michael Cargill, “and that's why the bump stock case will be the case that saves everything.”