As Americans We’re Used to This
Like you I awoke this morning to yet another report of another terrible mass shooting, this one near Dallas in Allen, Texas. This was the third such mass shooting just this week.
What struck me about this one, and the report cited above, were the words of one of the people in the outlet mall where it happened.
“Kaleo Palakiko, 36, was shopping with his parents for an upcoming vacation when they saw people running outside.
“’It was just kind of chaotic for a second. Then when someone said, “shooter,” we all ran to the back of the store,’ Mr. Palakiko said. ‘As Americans, we’re used to this, because everyone knew exactly what to do.'” (emphasis added).
“As Americans, we’re used to this . . .” There was a time when we weren’t “used to this.” And it’s appalling that we, and our children, have become used to it. And that we have had to become accustomed it as part of life in this country. Something is terribly wrong in a society where people become accustomed to guns everywhere and to people randomly shooting other people each week, really daily or more than daily, as this is the 199th such mass shooting of 2023. And yet, I fear Mr. Palakiko is right. “As Americans we’re used to this.”
I would connect this to two other stories in this week’s news.
The U.S. Surgeon General released a report this week on America’s “epidemic of loneliness,”
It indicated that widespread loneliness, lack of social interactions and close friendships, is “epidemic” and that it is as detrimental to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It stands to reason that a society as violent and heavily armed as ours would result in people choosing not to go out in public and so spending more time alone.
Another factor also bears on this, one cited in the Surgeon General’s report, and that is the diminished number of public places (parks, libraries, town squares, promenades, playgrounds, public pools) in our society. Beginning in the 80’s we turned increasingly toward privacy and away from shared public life, a development that parallels the arming of America. Americans objected to the taxes that meant ample and well-maintained parks, promenades and playgrounds and opted instead — at least the affluent did — for creating their own playgrounds and private get aways.
All of this combines to make us less trusting, more suspicious of one another, more isolated and less of a civilized society where all people, and especially the vulnerable, may flourish. These trends toward a diminished common life and civil society, widespread gun ownership, and accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of the few have in many ways undone much of what made made America different and truly great.
The other report I would mention might be considered good news, and at least to me, surprising news. That is that Fox TV viewers, contrary to my expectations, are heavily in support of measures to reduce the incidence of violence and mass shootings. Check this out from the Friday May 5 edition of The Free Press.
“Broad support for gun control: Next time someone tries to make the gun control debate about simple left/right politics, show them last week’s poll of Fox News viewers who are largely in favor of common sense gun laws and enforcement of existing laws. I was pretty stunned by this:
“Percent of Fox Viewers saying ‘in favor,’
Background Checks for Guns 87%
Enforce Existing Gun Laws 81%
Legal Age of 21 for All Gun Purchases 81%
Required Mental Health Screening for all Gun Purchasers 80%
Flag People Who Pose a Danger to Themselves/ Others 80%
Require a 30 Day Waiting Period for all Gun Purchases 77%”
“Just like the topic of abortion,” concludes Nellie Bowles at Free Press, “Americans are actually pretty moderate and are in broad agreement when it comes to gun control.”
But the extremes — and not the majority of moderates — are running the show. The result? A common life as Americans that is lonely, unsafe and disconnected, despite all of our many technologies for “connection” and “security.”