“‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens” It’s the headline we read every time there’s another mass shooting. The Onion, struggling to remain satirical in a world stranger than fiction, knows the power of the headline’s meaning. Replace the city’s name, update the number of fatalities, add new picture, repost. It’s always the same. It’s all the same.
Early reports of a shooter on social media. You notice, but don’t click. Don’t bother unless it’s close by or they start reporting fatalities. Injuries don’t warrant attention anymore. Rumors of multiple shooters. Rumor debunked. Images of victims running away, of SWAT teams gathering, of onlookers crying. Early reports of the shooter’s name. Numbers start to come in from hospitals: x dead, y wounded. No, x+z dead now. Calls for gun control. Calls for not using this event as a call for gun control. Thoughts and prayers. “Thoughts and prayers are not enough.” Reports that police have found shooter’s journal and social media. Analysis starts on his motive (it’s always a him). Conjecture. Loner, bullied, radicalized, heartbroken, mentally ill? Honoring the hero that died saving others. Vigil for the victims. How could we have prevented this? How could we prevent the next one? Then another disaster strikes the news cycle, and the story slips down, eventually becoming just an item on the lists of deadly shootings. The local community is left to bury their dead and deal with their trauma, and everyone else just hopes the next community isn’t theirs.
After running through the cycle a few times, it’s not so shocking. It’d be silly to say that a shooting is shocking. It’s scary and tragic and traumatizing, but not shocking. It’s not a surprise. We know our role in the routine. We all have our stock answers, our trusty thoughts and prayers and gun lobbying statistics. I used to wonder how people in war-torn places dealt with everyday life when there are soldiers and shootings and bombers all around them. But I think I get it now. You bury empathy unless it hits too close to home. You don’t let yourself mourn every life lost. There isn’t time for mourning or processing or deep introspection. You learn which routes are safest, physically and mentally, and make that your routine. You turn off a part of your own humanity because you’re in an inhumane environment.
At the beginning of the school year, kids across the country do fire and tornado and active shooter drills. Because they are disasters that children need to be prepared for. Because they are disasters that can’t be predicted or prevented. Any post-Columbine student knows how to react to a shooting just as much as a fire. Repeat the drill so if the real thing happens, you can just go on autopilot. Turn off that part of your humanity. Know your role in the routine. Carry the training into the real world, to your work, your church, the movie theater, the concert venue. Always be alert. Always be ready. Why are our kids so anxious?
Why are our kids so anxious? Because it is beyond their control. That’s part of the training. We have no control over a fire or a tornado or an active shooter. They’re just disasters that sometimes happen. It’s an inhumane environment; just get out alive. We have no way to prevent this, says the only nation where this regularly happens.