Chris Carlson / AP
Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019 | 2 a.m.
When the gunman in the Las Vegas mass shooting died, he left behind a hoard of guns and firearm accessories in his two Nevada homes and the hotel suite he used as a perch for his attack.
All told, the gunman, Stephen Paddock, owned 50 guns, from pistols to high-powered long arms, and almost 40 firearm components including scopes, a red dot sight, bi-pods and rifle cases. A special administrator appointed by a state court judge to determine the value of Paddock’s estate said in a recent report that the guns and equipment were worth about $62,340.
Now, the main lawyer involved in passing on Paddock’s nearly $1.4 million estate to the families of the 58 people he slaughtered at an outdoor country music festival is facing a quandary. Should the firearms be sold to raise as much money as possible for the bereaved, or would it be more appropriate to destroy the guns in an emblematic rejection of the kind of violence that Paddock carried out?
“The money that would come from selling the guns is not a huge amount, but it would help to make a difference in people’s lives,” said Alice Denton, the lawyer for the special administrator in the estate case.
On the other hand, Denton added, “Destroying the guns would send more of a symbolic message to the world that weapons like these should not be sold at any price if death or harm to innocent people cannot be prevented.”
She said the estate would solicit feedback from the families of those killed and review applicable laws before a decision would be made on how to proceed. In the meantime, the guns and accessories are in the possession of the FBI.
In an email message, a spokeswoman for the bureau’s Las Vegas field office, Sandra Breault, declined to comment on whether the FBI would return some or all of the weapons to the estate. “This part of the investigation is still ongoing,” she wrote.
Paddock died without a will. Lawyers for the victims encouraged Paddock’s mother — who, under Nevada law, became the heir by default — to give his assets to the estates of the 58 people killed by her son. The mother, Irene Hudson, transferred her right to inherit the estate in March of last year.
In addition to those killed, hundreds of others were injured in the shooting. However, lawyers say the compensation should go to the loved ones of the dead rather than the injured, saying the money would have greater impact on their lives than if the large number of people hurt in the rampage were also beneficiaries.
The conundrum over what to do with Paddock’s firearms underscores the increasingly complex and delicate considerations that have arisen for victims and their relatives as mass shootings have become a more frequent part of American life today.
The case also comes as an unparalleled number of gun control laws were passed in states around the country in the 15 months since the Las Vegas shooting on Oct. 1, 2017.
Mynda Smith, 43, whose older sister was fatally shot by Paddock, said she saw no point in destroying the guns he owned.
“My initial reaction is that destroying them is not going to change anything and it won’t bring any goodness,” Smith said. “But if some good can come out of selling them, I am for it.”
For Kyle Taylor, 32, whose father died in the massacre, deciding on the best use of Paddock’s weapons was “a moral dilemma.”
“The more money you could raise to help the families is great,” Taylor said. “But the idea of receiving money from equipment that was used by someone who took so many lives is creepy and unsettling.”
In the special administrator’s inventory of the estate, 23 rifles and a revolver were listed as having been found in Paddock’s room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. They were given a total value of $41,050.
At Paddock’s home in Mesquite, Nevada, $18,439 worth of guns and accessories — seven rifles, seven shotguns and five handguns — were found. And two shotguns and five handguns, with a combined value of just more than $2,800, were collected from his Reno house, the inventory report showed.
Overall, each of the 58 families would receive about $24,000 once Paddock’s estate is divided up equally. Included in that figure would be a payout of close to $1,100 per family if the firearms were to be sold.
The cache of guns that belonged to Paddock — who attained significant wealth through high-stakes gambling and modest real estate deals before he lost much of it — is just one piece of his estate. It also includes a pair of houses, both in scenic retirement communities, an investment property and bank accounts.
Among the other items in the estate are two gaming vouchers, totaling more than $30,000, from the Mandalay Bay. It was from an upper floor room in the hotel that Paddock started firing at concertgoers on the Vegas Strip, in what was the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. He then took his own life.
The inventory of Paddock’s estate also showed that he had $455,758 in 13 bank and brokerage accounts.
The situation with the Paddock weapons is not unprecedented. When the federal government sought to hold an internet auction of personal items belonging to Theodore Kaczynski, who was sentenced to life in prison for the Unabomber crimes, several victims pursuing restitution from him were initially reluctant to agree to such a sale.
Although the money from the sale of Kaczynski’s writings, sunglasses, clothing and other possessions would go to them, the victims feared that the auction would bring Kaczynski more publicity and further expose their suffering. One victim who was not seeking restitution said he hoped that Kaczynski’s property would be destroyed or sealed for at least a century and then made available to “scholars of depravity.”
The auction went ahead in 2011 and raised more than $232,000 for the victims. Kaczynski carried out 16 mail bombings from 1978 to 1995 that killed three people and injured 28.
Though the matter of how best to handle Paddock’s guns remains unresolved, the estate has made progress in other areas. On Thursday, the judge overseeing the estate case approved the sale of Paddock’s Mesquite home to an Oregon couple for $425,000.
His residence in Reno is still on the market for $374,900, a reduction from the original listing price of $399,000 in July.
Bernadette Jones, who, with her husband, Daniel, bought the Mesquite home, said that the property met their criteria and that they were not spooked by the fact that it had belonged to one of America’s most notorious mass murderers, who stored many of his guns there.
“There is room to build a pool, it is a nice clean house that has hardly been lived in and there are nice neighbors who have been through a lot,” Bernadette Jones said.
She added, “We feel that our discernment is very good, and if we felt that things were not right, we would have walked away. If he had any personal items in there, buying would have been out of the question.”
The Joneses, who are in their 60s, had been looking to relocate to the area since the summer of 2017 to escape the dreary weather of Albany, Oregon.
Denton, the lawyer, said that the 58 families would not see any money raised by the estate for at least another year to give creditors time to file any claims.
Although lawyers for many of the surviving victims have said their clients will not sue the estate in order to preserve it, Denton pointed out that “the agreements are not in writing and they can change their minds at any time.”
“We would then have an insolvent estate and nobody would get anything,” she said.