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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

11/27/23 pdf
November 27, 2023

Living with the constant fear of mass shootings


Residents of the dorms in the dining hall located in the East Building.Photo by Hunter Berry (He/Him) / Mass Media Staff. 

So here we are again, in the aftermath of a rash of high-profile mass shootings. I say high-profile because there are literally hundreds of mass shootings in the U.S. every year that go underreported [1], yet it takes high-profile ones to get the general public to, again and again, confront this horrifying trend. Even though the vast majority of them go unnoticed by most Americans, enough do go noticed that our society seems to have become numb to the horror of it all.
Of course, the worst part of these shootings is how many innocent victims they claim—often children too. I think the most insidious consequence is that we now live in a society where each and every one of us is forced to either worry about getting shot and killed—or our loved ones getting shot and killed—in any conceivable situation, or simply resign ourselves to acceptance that we might just randomly die at any time. A society like this is a society with a serious sickness at its core, but we seem to be unable to do anything about it.
As students of a large, public university, I’m sure most of us have thought about the possibility that we might become a target—especially since our political reputation directly challenges many of the extremist viewpoints that fuel these shootings. Remember those extreme evangelical Christians that came to campus, screaming about how we are in league with the devil and all that? Why do you think they came here?
It’s a sad state of affairs when people feel like they are risking their lives just being out in public or getting an education. It’s also harmful to our shared culture. I’ll give you an example.
On New Year’s Eve, my girlfriend and I took a trip down to Copley Square to take part in the celebrations. Right after we emerged from the T station, we were immediately recruited by a local puppeteer organization to be a part of the parade. We were given these stick-and-cloth contraptions, in the vague shape of birds with large wings and an orange beak, to tie around ourselves and flap along with the rest of the troupe. It sounded like a good time, so we went along.
Well, it was a great time overall! But a disquieting, underlying sense of anxiety shadowed me all the way from Copley to the Commons…“What if someone starts shooting?” I kept thinking. “What if a bomb goes off?” I kept scanning buildings and the crowd periodically—moments of irrational fear that only abided once we stepped away from the crowds.
Now I want to be clear, there really is a sense of irrationality to my anxiety. I don’t want to give the impression that we should all be terrified all the time of a one-in-a-million chance of something horrible happening. Fearmongering is not my goal. My goal is simply to express the all-too-common fear that all too many people experience nowadays.
It strikes me as profoundly depressing and makes my stomach churn that this is reality for us now. Every public space is a potential site of mass death and injury. Schools are no longer safe spaces. We can’t even trust police to protect us, judging by what happened in Uvalde, Texas. This is what I mean by “harmful to our shared culture;” How can we celebrate, gather and enjoy a greater sense of collectiveness to the fullest extent if we constantly have these threats looming over us?
What are we to make of this? Are we really willing to accept the fact that mass shootings are a fairly common occupational hazard of simply living our lives? We have seen over and over how the “good guy with a gun” is not a solution to these eruptions of supreme hatred and contempt for humanity. At its best, it’s a risky solution to a shooting that has already commenced—and likely already taken some lives. At worst, it just doesn’t work at all.
I don’t pretend to have the answer. I can tell you that I—along with around half of all Americans [2]—support stronger, common-sense gun control measures. I can tell you that I truly support expanded access to mental health services and community intervention. I can tell you that I believe we need to do a better job educating young people about the horrors of bigotry and hate—be it racial, ethnic, gender-based, sexual–orientation-based, religious or otherwise—so they aren’t radicalized by hateful rhetoric. I will tell you that we need to take a good, long look at our system and realize that we need some serious systemic change to prevent people from becoming depressed, disillusioned, disconnected and ultimately discarded by society.
People are feeling desperately unfulfilled, unhappy and abused in our society—that much is obvious. This situation is exactly what fearmongers prey on, using scapegoats as the dumping ground for massive, collective anger. In our day and age, this has often resulted in mass shootings and other acts of terrorism, and we are all suffering greatly for it.
So, you’ve got to ask yourself: Are you willing to continue living with the constant fear of mass shootings? Are you willing to see people die en-masse hundreds of times every year? I know I’m not, but unfortunately, I don’t really know what I can personally do about it. It seems that there is too much debate, too many possible solutions and too much to fix. That hurts.
But I do have hope that we will find a way to end this scourge of hateful violence. I am confident that young people—including myself—will find a way to do it. I’m still trying to figure out what my role is, but I know I will have one. I hope you do too.

About the Contributor
James Cerone, Opinions Editor