In Waco carnage, a message to America

Story highlights

  • Errol Louis: Cops, restaurant owner knew 5 biker criminal gangs were converging; presence of cops didn't deter carnage
  • Louis: How will Texas 2016 candidates respond to this event's reflection of wanton gun culture?

Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall," a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Even while the horrific details from the fatal gang battle in Waco, Texas, filter in, it's not too soon to ask: Is this who and what we have become as a nation? A place where a shootout between five heavily armed criminal gangs can unfold at a restaurant, in full view of law enforcement, leaving nine dead, 18 hospitalized and some 170 people arrested?

Law enforcement officers knew at least a week in advance that a horde of bikers was converging on the Twin Peaks restaurant, where the massacre took place, and stationed a dozen local and state officers on the scene -- including members of a SWAT team.
Errol Louis
But that didn't stop the gangsters from clashing with knives, clubs, and guns. Police say the bikers fired at each other, and eventually at the officers who tried to stop the carnage.
    Are Americans now so lawless that presence of law enforcement doesn't deter gunplay?
    Innocent patrons and restaurant staffers hid inside a freezer, KWTX reported. It's a minor miracle that no cops, restaurant employees or diners were hurt or killed.
    Twin Peaks held regular events called "bike nights." Concerned about the possibility of violence, Waco police had asked Twin Peaks to try to keep biker gangs away from the restaurant; the restaurant refused, police said.
    Jay Patel, operator of the restaurant, put out a statement on Facebook expressing horror at the killings, but a law enforcement spokesman called it a "complete fabrication," pointing out that cops had gone so far as to appeal to Twin Peaks' national corporate headquarters to try and pull the plug on the gangs' gathering there.
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    "What happened today could have been avoided if we would have had management at a local establishment listen to their police department and assist us," said Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton, a police spokesman. "They failed to do that, and this is the event that happened."
    And even as bodies piled up in the morgue and the injured lay in the hospital and dozens of suspects were taken into custody, news organizations turned to other issues in the world, from the race for president to the Billboard Music Awards.
    Is American culture now so drenched in weaponry -- and so wearily accustomed to violence -- that a bloody massacre barely registers as news?
    "My thoughts and prayers are with the citizens of Waco and all law enforcement officers in the wake of this shocking shooting," reads a Twitter statement posted on the official government website of Rep. Bill Flores, whose congressional district includes Waco and who is an enthusiastic opponent of gun control legislation.
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    Flores, who boasts of owning his own assault rifle and specifically fought against tightening gun laws after the mass slaughter of schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut, is shocked, shocked, that some of the countless numbers of people who can buy and carry firearms -- virtually without restriction, thanks to Flores and his pro-gun colleagues -- should end up actually using them.
    Have we grown so wearily accustomed to predictable, periodic spasms of deadly violence that the idea of closing gun-sale loopholes isn't even worth debating? And will presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who may soon announce a presidential run of his own, offer ideas on how to curb the deadly violence, or simply wring their hands like Flores?
    In a tragic situation where we have more questions than answers, the most important question to ask right now might be: How on earth did we get to this place?