Shoot, write, rinse, repeatBy Mark Hammontree | 08/31/2015 9:42pm
While college football fans around the country salivate in anticipation of the 2015 season, families across the country mourn the loss of loved ones as a result of a gunfire.
You probably have heard by now about the most recent mass shooting to make national news. The shooting made national news in large part because the gunman uploaded a video of the event and because the victims were members of the media, but even then, by the end of the weekend, the media focus had almost completely turned back to Donald Trump or football or anything else but the shooting. By Sunday, there wasn’t a single story about the shooting on the main pages of The New York Times and USA Today’s websites, nor were there stories about any of the three other mass shootings that have occurred in the few days since, according to shootingtracker.com.
And why should there be more news attention? What’s newsworthy about another shooting? These mass public shootings have become commonplace in America. In fact, Harvard researchers have found that the rate of mass shootings has tripled since 2011. In the last three years, public shootings resulting in at least four deaths have occurred every 64 days on average. An FBI report has also shown an increase in public shootings since 2000. The gun violence tracking site, shootingtracker.com, lists 249 mass shootings (they consider any event with four or more people shot as a mass shooting) having occurred so far in 2015. Aug. 31 marks the 243rd day of the year.
Trying to count the number of shooting tragedies is like trying to keep track of the number of superhero movies that have come out in the past 10 years. And just like superhero movies, these shootings have become an expectation - an assured reality - for the foreseeable future. So, it’s no surprise we only seem to care about a shooting when a lot of people die or when a video shocks and horrifies us. And even then, we only care for a little while. We shake our heads and ask, “What is this world coming to?” We argue and fight over guns and mental health and anything else we can think of, and then nothing happens - until the next shooting, which causes us to revive the same conversation.
It’s easy to ignore the statistics about public shootings and gun violence. It’s easy to distance these news stories as things that happen far away. In fact, that’s usually the most common response from victims or witnesses: “I just never thought it would happen here.” Unfortunately, it can and does happen everywhere. In the last five years, these public shootings have happened in California and Texas; in Arizona and New York; in Aurora, Colorado, and Sandy Hook, Connecticut; in Virginia and Alabama. They’ve happened at elementary schools, high schools and colleges, and they’ve happened at malls, movie theaters and military bases.
And yes, it can and has happened in Tuscaloosa. Three years ago, 17 people were injured when Nathan Van Wilkins opened fire at the Copper Top Bar with an assault rifle on July 16, 2012. It's no wonder the University shut down last fall when someone calling himself Authur Pendragon promised “retribution” and “chaos.” As a country, we’ve had countless examples of chaos and senseless violence. And when the only difference between 17 people being injured and 17 people being killed is a matter of inches, the only certainty anymore is uncertainty.
You can point to crime rates or mental health statistics, but no one can possibly know when or where the next Sandy Hook or Aurora will happen. We only know that it will. What can a society do when the possibility of violence exists everywhere? We haven’t answered that question yet. Maybe there’s not a good answer to be had. But we all know what happens if we do nothing. We see it happen nearly every day.
This column has been an almost word-for-word replication of a column I wrote last November in the wake of a school shooting at Florida State. I’ve changed the context of the events, and I’ve updated some statistics, but really I couldn’t think of anything else to say. These shootings and the articles and think pieces that follow them have come to be almost identical.
Mark Hammontree is a senior majoring in secondary education-language arts. His column runs weekly.