The deaths of seventeen people at Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day has again ignited debate in this country over what, if anything, can be done to end or at least impact the number of mass shootings in the United States. The debate focuses on the Constitutional right to bear arms guaranteed in the 2nd Amendment, the power of the National Rifle Association, what constitutes reasonable gun control measures, the need to address mental health issues and access to guns by the mentally challenged, and how to improve communications between law enforcement and social service organizations that may have prior knowledge of attack planning or indications that someone might carry out such an attack.
In the aftermath of this latest mass shooting social media is once again abuzz with prayers from the faithful for healing, comfort, and peace for the victims and their families. These are followed by dismissal of those prayers as ineffective or a waste of time by secularists. There are similar camps and arguments over access to military assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and bump stocks and their ownership by ordinary citizens, with both sides of the divide ensconced in their positions. There are calls for Congress to arbitrate the discord and act, not along Party lines, but in response to the public outrage that demands that something be done. Sadly we have seen this all before and are very likely to go down this road again, again, and again.
Perhaps we’ll witness a different outcome this time. The teenage survivors of this shooting are determined to make this tragedy a turning point in the debate. A March for Our Lives demonstration is scheduled for March 24th in Washington, D.C.
There is, however, another factor that underlies the cyclical nature of these mass shootings and our response to them. I wrote about it previously in this blog (April 18, 2017) in the context of my reaction to the death of my father, but I believe it to be applicable to this discourse.
Though any loss is tragic, my feelings and reactions are directly proportional to how well I knew the deceased. I do not feel the same in the presence of strangers nor, I believe does anyone; we distance ourselves. We may be horrified by the brutality or enormity of it in case of wars or natural disasters [or mass shootings], we may empathize and find it sad that he or she is no longer with us, but we immunize ourselves and continue on without much further thought or reaction. – Excerpt from Silver Taps.
We must force ourselves to get past this human tendency. We need to identify with the parent who lost a child, to the sibling who lost a brother or sister, to the relative who lost a family member, to the teacher who lost a student or colleague, to the individual who lost a close friend. Their pain and anguish over these sudden deaths must become our pain and anguish. We must put ourselves in the mindset that this might have happened to me or someone I love. Otherwise our defense mechanisms will keep us from being invested over any length of time and once again we’ll move on… until the next mass shooting.