Americans have gone numb to mass shootings


Following the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, outrage over loose gun control policies has spread over social media. Thousands of people have shared calls for policy changes, pictures of the victims and the personal background of the shooter The online reaction resembles that following the Sandy Hook and Pulse Nightclub shootings — loud and unapologetic. But, this collective fury was missing during the 17 other American school shootings that have happened in 2018 alone, according to CNN. As a nation, we have become numb to gun violence. 

We only pay attention to acts of violence with high body counts, and the Parkland shooting — which is now the ninth largest mass shooting in American history with 17 casualties — fits the criteria. Our lack of passion and drive when it comes to smaller incidents of gun violence allows these acts to continue. 

On Jan. 23, a 16-year-old boy opened fire at Marshall County High School in Benton, Kentucky, killing two and injuring 18, according to CBS News. Just a day earlier, on Jan. 22, a 16-year-old boy shot a 15-year-old girl with a semi-automatic handgun in the cafeteria of Italy High School in Italy, Texas, according to NBC. 

In January alone, 1,172 people died in gun related deaths, according to the National Gun Violence Archive. 

The constancy of gun violence in America has brainwashed us to expect it. Any act of gun violence with a low casualty count is considered normal, and garners little to no reaction. 

Joan Cook, a psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Yale University, wrote about the desensitization of trauma for Americans in TIME Magazine. According to her, citizens are experiencing something called “compassion fade.” Following countless mass shootings, Americans have suppressed their emotions as a coping mechanism. While numbing traumatic memories can be beneficial in the short term, the level that it has reached in the majority of American citizens makes gun violence seem out of our control. This leads to under-reporting of small-scale attacks, and by extension, a lack of empathy from Americans. 

This expectancy of armed attacks is the reason America has such a higher rate of gun violence than other developed countries — 3.85 deaths due to gun violence per 100,000 people in the U.S. in 2016, according to NPR. In the same year, Canada had 0.48 deaths and China had 0.06 deaths per 100,000 people. 

After every major shooting, America follows the same course of action. Government officials and citizens share their thoughts and prayers online, we lower flags to half mast and, by the end of the week, the national attention has shifted once again. On Feb. 15, President Trump addressed the nation in wake of the attack. In his speech, he said that the safety of children in schools would be made a top priority, but failed to mention gun control. 

Despite the immediate outrage created by the Parkland shooting, America is already following its predicted course of action. The focus has begun shifting to other events, prayers have already been sent to the victims and the common understanding is that it’s once again out of our control. 

Until Americans can break this pattern, and treat every instance of gun violence as an unacceptable and unnecessary tragedy, mass shootings will not end. To change gun control policies, we need sustained and mounting political pressure — not temporary outrage.