Mass shootings are a public health crisis and they are creating a national trauma, writes Margaret Valenti.
The United States is becoming a nation of trauma by association. For hundreds of years, like almost every nation on Earth, we endured tragedy over generations from genocide, to war, to terrorist attacks. Gun violence feels different. It feels different because younger millennials and generation z kids all grew up with stories about 9/11, but are too young to remember. All we hear are stories of lost friends and family, about the heroes and how the world changed.
For us the world never changed, it was just the world we grew up in. Now, we feel gun violence, but it is not just across two generations because bullets do not choose generations. The problem — the trauma of our nation — is that our world is not changing in response to these tragedies, not enough. With the growth of the rate of mass shootings, domestic terror attacks, and hate crimes across the United States, everyone is affected.
How The Trauma Manifests
On Tuesday, a motorcycle backfired in Time Square, New York City. Associating it with gunshots, the crowd bolted the other way in fear that another mass shooting was underway. During pride month, Washington D.C. Pride experienced a similar phenomenon. Friends and family talk to me about how they are afraid to be on college campuses. On the internet, people talk about a constant anxiety they have about mass shootings; many people are afraid to be in large stores or public places and always look for the nearest exit no matter where they go.
Guns were created for humans to take a life or lives efficiently, ideally during war or for sport. The creators of guns never thought that their weapons would evolve into the automatic weapons that kill in mass shootings we see on the news. Now, another “mass shooting” generation enters high school and a year exists where the number of mass shootings outnumber the days.
Before Sandy Hook, I never sat through an active shooter drill. In middle school, they taught us that Columbine happened because kids were bullied in school and lashed out at their classmates and teachers. A man came to school yelling about how we needed to treat each other better or more school shootings would happen. He told us to close our eyes and imagine our parents and friends being shot around us. Most of my classmates, including myself, cried that day, got up on stage, and spoke into a mic and swore we would never be mean again because we did not want to endure that scenario.
Once Sandy Hook happened, the way we talk about gun violence changed. I have friends and family who were affected by the trauma that day brought, and by proximity and association, so was I. Not in the same way that victims, or families, or friends are affected, but I was a sophomore in highschool who started bringing a pocket knife to school.
I never talked to my parents about my fear, even as they put in new security systems on the doors of my school and began performing school wide active shooter drills. Then I went to college, and Parkland happened. I imagined that I would run to a certain place if a shooting ever took place out in the open. I never quite figured out what I would do if I was in an indoor space and needed to lock the door and barricade it, even though I practiced in high school.
But that is the point of mass shootings, is it not? People who use guns in that manner want other people to feel fear. I know that I never experienced gun violence first hand, nor do I know a victim, but there is this sense of universal fear that is infecting the country. That is what is happening to the citizens of the United States, a people becoming afraid for each other, for ourselves, and for our future. People have different solutions to the problem: combating white supremacy or radicalization of any kind, different forms of gun control, arming more people, more focus on mental health, and changing our culture entirely, among others.
The problem is that you cannot pick someone who is going to commit a mass shooting out of a crowd; being a mass shooter has nothing to do with ethnicity, or background, or mental health, or gender identity, or sexuality, or religion, or socio economic status, or where you grew up, or who your parents were, or whether you get bullied in school. One consistency is that the perpetrator is usually male and usually white. The next mass shooter could be a coworker, a classmate, an acquaintance, a neighbor, a friend, a lover, a family member, a person you never knew of, a person standing next to you, or across from you, or diagonal, or not; they could be reading this article.
Our World Needs To Change
Unless our world actually changes in a seismic way, there will be another mass shooting. More parents will feel the weight of their children’s death. More children will grow up without the people who were supposed to raise them and love them. More friends will die. Many will be murdered simply for the way they look or the way they need to live. More voids will be created, voids that cannot be filled. Those voids — lives now taken from us — are multiplying every single day due to gun violence.
We have run out of things to say because almost no one can say anything about gun control that was not already screamed into a microphone at a rally, but that does not mean we stop saying enough is enough. I will certainly continue to say that until I am not suspicious of people’s heavy pockets, I do not need to look for the nearest exit, and I can say I feel safe around guns, if that is even possible.
The problem with trauma by association is that even if common sense gun control gets put in place, I cannot be certain I will ever feel safe. I am certain I am not the only one who believes that, and that is the problem. I do not want any young person to feel the way I feel today as they grow up. Our trauma is preventable and our leaders do nothing to stop the bleeding, and they must because the future — posterity — is at stake.