As I write this introduction, my local news feed claims that eight Walmarts in the US have received threats of violence. My inbox has blown up with people sending me a threatening screenshot that’s been circulating on social media for Kansas City.
Not far from where I live, Dmitriy Andreychenko conducted a “social experiment” by walking into a Walmart wearing body armor and carrying a loaded military-style rifle to test his Second Amendment rights in a public area. People are scared. In Manhattan, a back firing motorcycle caused panic. In Utah, a falling sign caused a mall evacuation. In Louisiana customers fled when an argument between two men resulted in drawn weapons.
This is all recent news. The atmosphere is riddled with fear and suspicion. Jim Smith from late-night radio show My Generation w/ The Night Owl radio show on 91.3 WVUD-FM in Newark Delaware wrote up an interesting opinion piece on the curious place we find ourselves and generously agreed to let me share it here.
The following is written by Jim Smith regarding the recent shootings in the United States. All opinions are Jim’s. I thank him for taking the initiative to voice words on the situation. While I try to keep the focus here on writing, some things are too large to ignore. “Opinion Peace” is a first here, but I invite more personal essays.
Jim’s bio and links are included at the end of this piece.
Respectful discussion welcome.
Even in a nation slowly becoming used to bad news, the reports of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas on August 3, 2019 shocked the country. People were told the news that 20 or more people (or more) were murdered just after 10:30 a.m. at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas which left most of us shaking our heads and wondering ‘how can these things happen?’. But then, less than 24 hours later we wake up to find nine people killed and over a score of people wounded at a bar in Dayton, Ohio.
And once again, we are wondering why? How can these things happen, and why with such seeming regularity these days? Is likely what’s on most people’s minds, especially since (according to a CNN article) this is the 115 mass shootings since May 2019 in the United States this year, and this is only August!
Some questions seem to inevitably flood into our consciousness every time something such as the El Paso and Dayton shootings are shown on our Televisions. Questions like, ‘how can this happen?’ of course, ‘why would someone do these things?’ and ‘why are these mass shootings happening so often?’. All valid questions but, sadly most are unanswered and too often remain unanswered as most people return to their busy, and often complicated daily lives. Also, many of the assailants are killed by police or sometimes give coherent answers, making the authorities rely in Social Media posts in their search for a motive.
Unfortunately, the usual stock answers cover the when, where and how’s of what happened but often overshadow the real question of ‘why?’ Those spurious answers tend to lean toward guns, and so-called ‘assault weapons’ and their ease of availability, or high-capacity clips and the deadly ammo they are designed to hold (basically designed to only be available to the Military).
But there’s more to it, but those extraneous points are seemingly lost on many people who depend on the Media for explanations. One point being, how can generally ordinary people be motivated to commit such horrific acts against random strangers? Is it the guns? Of course that’s one element of the equation but we have to remember that not only was the United States itself literally born in a baptism of gunfire, but that guns have been with us for time immemorial and, by the numbers we have been awash in guns for centuries,
But in all that time, did people so casually use these guns against our fellow citizens as much as are used today? The answer would appear to be no, but not because we didn’t have easy access to them. In the 50s and 60s most people knew of people who had guns or owned one of two themselves, even the kids. It was considered a rite of passage in many areas of the country for a father to give his son a .22 rifle for his sixteenth birthday.
And then there was Television. The Rifleman, Have Gun, Will Travel, Gunsmoke and a raft of other action-adventure shows were the Television norm. And later it was James Bond, The Man From Uncle, I-Spy and a host of other spy, detective and police shows where the ‘good guy’ always had a gun. And he or she used it, often.
Forgetting for a moment that many of these mass shooters weren’t even born when the abovementioned shows and movies were popular, one can ask, was that at least a part of the reason today’s world is what it is? Apparently not. Children back then were shooting each other with imaginary, or toy guns with regularity and most never considered ever using a real one, despite having easy access to a real gun.
Of course some of these ultra-realistic, multiplayer video games, where players can blow someone’s head off with disturbing realism (and the ‘dead’ guy gets right up and then shoots back) may have some influence but more study on that influence seems to be needed.
And then there’s ‘The News’. The never-ending 24/7 cycle of more information than you’d even need or want. Depending which news outlet is your go-to information source, that could unmistakably affect people. Even, and especially, children. Decades ago, getting ‘the news’ was considered an ‘adults only’ pastime and most children didn’t pay much attention to what Walter Cronkite had to say every night. And sometimes the parents would even send the kids out of the room. ‘Let the kids be kids and allow them to retain their innocence for a while.’ seems almost a foreign idea today.
Then, saving the ‘best’ for last, there’s Facebook and other Social Media outlets on the Internet. When did regular society stop shunning people who had antisocial and violent opinions? They probably still do, and the murderous wannabe ‘freedom fighters’ and their hateful ilk were usually ostracized by most folks, leaving them to spout their opinions to two or three people at the bar who would listen to them.
But clearly not today. With Social Media it’s almost impossible for people on the fringes of society to not find others who feel the way they do. Apart from most online society they can seek out, and associate themselves with like-minded individuals. And as it always is, there is strength in numbers and the people in these hateful and violent groups rely on others in their small circles to confirm and reinforce their antisocial leanings. These groups act as a breeding ground for irrational hatred and then, without the filter of what general society may think, they act! That is among the things we must look carefully at.
And of course, the general, consumer-oriented Media is not without their share of responsibility. In a country of over 325 Million people there will always be murder and mayhem. Historically, that seems to be human nature. However, with the 24-hour news media, when something happens in some small-town anywhere in the United States, it will become national news when before, it was relegated to perhaps a paragraph or less in your own local paper. This can also lead to fear and paranoia in the public in general, which leads to making people look over their shoulders in fear, although only a small percentage of incidents of mass killings are but a fraction of gun deaths in the overall population of the United States.
Which leaves the question and the debate, not just a matter of the who, what and where any more. It’s about the WHY! This is what is necessary before we can make any progress on this problem, because we haven’t heard the end of this.
Jim Smith is a self-described “old fart who likes to write.” He has been a freelance writer since with articles published in the print edition of Mental Floss and Cosmos—Australia’s version of Popular Science—and has been published in Canada and regional publications across the United States.
Jim has a humorous take on his work. “Ever write an 800-word article on 1800s Oklahoma Sod Houses? No? Then just don’t as it’s in the top three most boring subjects on the planet. But they liked it and paid me (and I’ve never set foot in Oklahoma), so it’s all good.”
You can find Jim Smith’s late-night radio show My Generation w/ The Night Owl radio show on Facebook here.