As the hours pass since the shooting Sunday night in Las Vegas, we're focusing on stories of Central Coast residents who were there at the scene. One of these stories comes from California's 35th District Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham.
Cunningham represents San Luis Obispo County and northern Santa Barbara County in the state legislature. Cunningham was at the Mandalay Hotel seeing the Cirque du Soleil show with his wife when the shooter began firing from the 32nd floor of the hotel.
KCBX spoke with Cunningham Monday night over the phone while he was in Phoenix, Arizona waiting for a connecting flight.
KCBX: Could you tell me what brought you to Las Vegas?
CUNNINGHAM: Yeah, I was there to present at the conference today on bail reform. We're in a different hotel. We went to the Mandalay Bay to see the Michael Jackson Cirque du Soleil show. We were in kind of a big theater on the ground floor the Mandalay Bay Hotel.
KCBX: When did you find out that something was going on?
CUNNINGHAM: Well, they shut down the the show, which was kind of unusual. They had a pre-recorded thing come on say, 'We apologize for the break. We appreciate your patience...'" kind of deal. And then a couple of minutes went by and the performers hadn't come back out. And then a live person came on over the loudspeaker and said, 'You know, we have an incident or three... stay in your seats. We appreciate your patience.' So I got on my phone and started looking at Twitter and I saw some tweets people posted about 'active life shooter on the second floor of Mandalay Bay.' So I show my wife and I told her stay calm. We went to one of the exits to look at whether we should leave. Go outside. We opened the side door to the exit onto the street. And we looked to the left, and there was the strip and the police had that thing closed down completely. And then we looked to the right. There were police cars there too. We kind of figured, 'Well we're probably safe and you know the shooter is above us. The police had the whole strip locked down by this point I mean it couldn't have been more than a minute after the shooting. So we just stayed in. I mean, I didn't want to create some sort of mass panic, either. A little while after we came back in, about [eight to 10] officers came in told everybody "Stay calm." And they locked out the doors from inside. And had their guns trained on the entrances. Kind of a barricade situation.
KCBX: What's going through your mind at this point?
CUNNINGHAM: Well everybody is kind of eerily quiet. I mean, I've got to say the law enforcement responses was exceptional. They took charge. Told people stayed calm. They got help for people that were kind of hyperventilating and having a hard time. Everybody. There was probably about 500 people in that theater. They all remained pretty pretty calm and orderly. And everybody's kind of checking their phones for updates. People were calling their their kids and their parents. At one point, one of the officers told people to get down. And I guess somebody was trying to get in from the outside. It was probably some hotel worker or something. And I mean, 500 people in theaters just hit the floor.
KCBX: I know you and your wife have four kids at home. Did you make any contact with them?
CUNNINGHAM: Well no. We kind of thought about it. I mean, they were staying with my parents, you know? We didn't want to freak them out. Wake them up in the middle of the night. You know, I don't know when it started. Probably near 10 or 10:30 or something. They were in bed by then. But we just kind of decided... her and I together decided, 'Well let's get out of here safely. Get to a safe place. We'll contact my folks. A little bit after 3 a.m., they started bussing people out. They got buses for us that were at the theater.
KCBX: As a politician, there's a lot of opinions about how mass shootings should be handled. Whether we should have more mental health resources available for people or more gun control. Has this experience changed any of your opinions?
CUNNINGHAM: Well, I haven't really had to process it on that level. You know, as policy makers you want to make good policy based on facts and evidence after you gather information. I just don't think we have a lot of answers to questions right now.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story has been amended to move the below paragraph to the portion of the interview where KCBX asks Cunningham whether his experience had changed his opinions on gun rights, and to clarify and elaborate on Cunningham's position on guns as a state lawmaker.
Since taking office in December, 2016, Cunningham has voted in favor of gun rights. He was endorsed by the National Rifle Association, and according to the non-profit, non-partisan research organization Vote Smart, Cunningham has an NRA rating of 86 percent. However, the NRA does not provide its rating to the general public, only members. What is public is Cunningham's NRA rating of "AQ," which according to the NRA, means "a pro-gun candidate whose rating is based solely on the candidate's responses to the NRA-PVF Candidate Questionnaire and who does not have a voting record on Second Amendment issues."