Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave for the past few weeks – an increasingly attractive alternative for anyone concerned about this topic – you’re acutely aware that mass shootings in the United States seem to be occurring at roughly the same rate as bullets fired from an assault rifle.
One would expect these senseless murders (is there any other kind?) to leave a populace severely shaken. Yet, judging from the rote delivery of and our numbed response to such news, senseless also describes our collective response to gun violence.
Media reports of these real-life nightmares are as formulaic as prime-time criminal dramas. Day one begins with the basic facts: where and when the shooting took place, how many people were killed or wounded, who the gunman was, and what type(s) of firearms were used.
Day two fills in more of the details: The names and ages of the deceased, references to the shooter’s emotional instability, and an attempt to explain “why” it happened (a fruitless pursuit, given that rational thinking on the part of the perpetrator is never part of the equation).
Save for those directly impacted by the violence, the disturbing images soon begin to fade, and we return to business as usual. Until it happens again.
Utilized as a temporary defense mechanism to cope with grief or trauma, denial can be a healthy option. When deployed as the default setting for an entire nation, it is nothing short of pathological.
The record shows that our blueprint for peacefully coexisting with guns is full of holes. The primary reason for this – though you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone on either side of the gun debate willing to admit it – is that it is utterly impossible to predict anyone’s future mental health.
It doesn’t matter who you are, where you live, how wonderful your family is, if you’ve passed a background check or gun safety course, possess a medical history devoid of red flags, or legally own your firearms. Profound psychological and emotional distress can befall anyone, at any time.
Most of us desperately want to believe that sheer probability will exempt us and our families from becoming victims to the next rampage. Some embrace the notion that if current gun laws were enforced, or tougher ones put in place, all would be well. Others imagine scenarios where they outdraw the “bad guy” and save the day – this, despite the fact that carrying a firearm on your belt is not the equivalent of surrounding yourself with a force field (as evidenced by the tragic June 8, 2014 triple homicide in Las Vegas of two police officers and the armed civilian who confronted one of the shooters).
We all wish to protect ourselves and our loved ones from this madness. And while comprehensive mental health care for all would bring us closer to that goal, we’re fooling ourselves if we think that’s enough.
As a society, we also need to ditch the guns.