“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” -Franklin Delano Roosevelt
What may have been true in 1933, at least in the context of FDR’s speech, seems pathetically out of place today. Our current state of fear is no mere metaphor. Mass shootings are a phenomena as real and violent as they are random and impersonal.
We have become so numb to these events that the least informed among us could write the script: disaffected, deranged loner shoots at people in a public place; the news media hone in on the perp, pasting his photo, his gun collection, his clinical diagnosis, heck even his favorite movie on the front page; repeat.
We have also heard the stats. According to NBC there have been more than 40 mass shootings since Columbine in 1999. Though law enforcement has made changes to their tactical response to these events, in the past fourteen years our prevention planning has remained the same- nonexistent.
Because of that we are now wallowing in the unspeakable horror – the massacre of innocents – in Newtown, CT. Our own failings as individuals, as communities and as a nation are a bitter, bitter pill.
We don’t need rhetoric or finger-pointing. We need real world solutions that will protect even the most vulnerable of us from a random, public shooting incident. That effort will require accurate data, legislation forged by political compromise, and revenue streams. To be blunt, the only chance we have of measurable intervention against these random acts of mass violence – without jeopardizing our status as a free society – is if everyone has skin in the game.
Because there are only two components to a mass shooting, the problem itself is straightforward. There is the shooter, represented almost exclusively by males between the ages of 15 and 45, and there is the weapon, often a high-calibre rifle or handgun with ample rounds in multiple magazines. The logical solution requires intervention before a) a troubled individual transforms into a monster filled with homicidal rage; and/or b) said individual arms himself with a firearm.
Framing the problem is simple, but truly accepting the reality is another. I did several years ago when I was attacked by a psychotic, enraged man who managed to ring my bell pretty good before my partner and I handcuffed him. He was unmedicated and on the streets because there were and are almost no resources for disturbed individuals like him.
Funding more mental health facilities, especially for people prone to psychotic episodes, is a good start. All that’s required are conscientious politicians, a majority of taxpayers willing to vote against their wallets and (gulp) a bureaucracy capable of putting it into place.
There are many well publicized incidents like my example. It was not lost on me that I escaped without serious injury because my attacker was unable to arm himself, a fact which brings us to the second, more polarizing question: How do we keep guns, especially assault rifles capable of inflicting massive trauma in a minimal amount of time, away from a small subset of people?
The simple answer is that we can’t. Instead, the solution will require a painful compromise between those who would seek the abolishment of all private firearms and those who consider it their right to own weapons normally reserved for military use.
It’s a tall order. One thing, though, is clear. Failure to do anything at all will only lead to more bloody atrocities, more images of carnage, until we are all finally, irrevocably and comfortably numb. FDR realized this, said as much in a fuller quote from his speech.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”