Fear has a legitimacy in America like never before. We live in a time when, instead of being seen as a character flaw, or a mental health issue to work on, anxiety is treated as a natural and reasonable response to being alive.
Now one can certainly understand this sensibility, to a degree. There are occasions when it is perfectly normal to be afraid — say, if some strange person rings your doorbell at 3 in the morning.
However, the current discourse extends far beyond such isolated instances, to the point where there is widespread panic over incredibly unlikely events.
For example, it is always horrible when a mass shooting happens. Our heart breaks for the victims and their families. Yet statistically speaking, these tragedies don’t occur often.
According to James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University, the odds that someone will die from a gun-toting maniac are roughly 10 million to 1. As a point of comparison, that is about the same risk as being killed in an earthquake or by a lightning strike.
Yet no one organizes mass protests claiming we need to “March for Our Lives” and be saved from the threat of the San Andreas Fault or rainstorms. Our society accepts that these natural disasters are events that people must learn to live with.
It is always important to take sensible precautions, certainly, when it comes to any danger.
But once that’s done, put it out of your mind and move on.
With gun violence, this is not the course that is being taken. Parents are buying their kids bulletproof backpacks. Cops are patrolling campuses with heavy weapons. Zero-tolerance school discipline policies continue to be in force, which do nothing to stop shootings, but end up diverting thousands of kids into the criminal justice system unnecessarily.
The toll all this has taken on our country is immense. It is common now to see viral videos circulate on social media where a crowd reacts in panic over the sound of a firework or balloon popping, thinking they are about to be blown away by an AR-15.
We are creating an atmosphere of paranoia, which inevitably is giving people mental health problems in a way that is truly tragic.
Furthermore, even with all these precautions, the shootings continue without cease. America hasn’t solved anything, but our current approach has certainly made everyone miserable in the process.
If anything, fear has made it harder to analyze this issue clearly. The typical argument one hears from the left is that the problem is the guns. If only we make it harder to access firearms, the tragedies will abate.
However, this is clearly an oversimplification. The baby boomer generation could obtain guns far easier than millennials and Gen Z.
They could literally order a rifle from a magazine with no background check, with the sort of ease that people now purchase air fryers from Amazon. Kids would bring their weapons to school and participate in gun clubs, in which they’d practice shooting with their friends.
Yet still the teenagers of the 1960s never thought to respond to their personal frustrations by inflicting mass carnage.
Clearly something deeper is afoot here that is the root cause of all the violence. Is it our decline in religion? Loneliness? The increased use of antidepressants?
A rational society would be able to consider these nuances, and discuss them thoughtfully. A society drunk on fear doesn’t even realize they exist.
Human evil is eternal. Like a virus, it evolves and changes form, finding out new ways to outsmart our defenses. At the end of the day, Americans must realize it is simply something to live with, and decide to enjoy themselves in spite of it all.
No one is guaranteed old age. Tomorrow is never promised. But what we can do is earn the time we are given.
Mass panic over gun violence — just like freaking out over earthquakes and lightning — is not the way to accomplish that.
So don’t scare the kids. Mandate extensive active shooter drills for school staff, but keep those activities to the bare minimum for students, who deserve to experience childhood without worrying about death.
Pass the best laws you can to limit gun ownership to responsible citizens, take care of the mentally ill, and only allow access to weapons that are necessary for self-defense.
But once all that is done, keep calm, carry on and hope for the best.
Joshua Heath is a Santa Clarita resident. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among local Democrats.