Image by Ken Lund via Flickr
The America I grew up in was threatened by people far away. The threat was called The Cold War. There was an “Iron Curtain” (concrete wall) between eastern and western Europe. We hunched under our desks or leaned on each other’s backs in lines in the gym to practice for an attack by the USSR. But this threat was distant. It did not make us constantly fearful in our daily lives.
Random Americans who decide to express their profound anger or depression with a gun are, in a way, more unsettling than the distant specter of nuclear annihilation. When we go into our public spaces, where we work, or learn, or shop, or play we hold a small kernel of fear that we never had before. Maybe we even do not go into public places as often as we used to.
I don’t know of any way that we can hope to intercept every shooter before they reach the point where they act. Will this get worse? Will we grow more shooters? Children are obviously falling through the cracks in our culture. The numbers of possible shooters are probably much larger and more alarming than the numbers of those who actually “go off “. As our population grows can we use our sociological knowledge to identify these young people and intervene in their lives in some positive ways? Turning around the lives of young people is far from an exact science at this point. It also violates some of our traditions of autonomy and freedom. American freedoms include the freedom to sink or swim as the case may be. But it is clear that these acts are bringing our fears very close to home indeed. We worry that a shooter could live right next door. The one thing that the Cold War and our unbalanced shooters seem to have in common is that, in each case, we realize that, individually, there is little we can do.
I went to graduate school in Tucson. I had wonderful memories of a vibrant desert city. Tucson was a friendly town with a country music vibe. I guess it is always more shocking when something awful happens in a place we know and love. Guns are common in Tucson. Many, many residents carry or own guns. The first time I ever held or shot a gun was in Tucson shooting cans out in the desert. As someone from a state where guns are kept hidden I am shocked when I see a gun. It is rare. But the people in Tucson are familiar with guns so that one bystander recognized when the shooter was reloading and she took the clip away from him. In this case her familiarity with guns may have saved the lives of many people at that Safeway in Tucson. If we want to be a society that respects gun ownership then perhaps we all need to be trained to understand the operation of firearms.
I am so sorry for the terror and sorrow experienced by the people of Tucson.