There was a dead rabbit on the quad the other day with no visible wounds, and the thought of what someone may have done to it bothered me immensely. What bothered me more, however, was that I found the death of one of the most abundant creatures on campus more distressing than either the recent attack in Nairobi or the Navy Yard shooting.
A death one actually witnesses is so much more affecting than a death one just hears about, so the tangible corpse of one rabbit feels far worse than reports of mall-goers being shot in another hemisphere. We don’t have to walk past their bodies on the way to class.
So what is responsible? Lax gun laws? The media? Human nature? Whenever another shooting happens, we rush to blame something for the incomprehensible violence. Some of the laws regarding the second amendment, like how the legally blind can purchase firearms in several states, are quite ridiculous. Regardless of whom is to blame, I haven’t been able to stomach big Hollywood shoot-‘em-ups ever since Newtown happened.
Our emotional response betrays why reform is such a slow process. No matter how terrible the news reports are, we still feel safe behind the TV or computer screen. It cannot happen here, we think, and we keep thinking we’re invincible until a shooting finally hits too close to home. Obviously, most of us will never experience gun violence first hand. Instead, we’ll feel horror and helplessness whenever we see the headlines, but those feelings will fade within minutes.
While these brief moments of terror have an effect, seeing death toll after death toll scroll across the TV screen desensitizes us, not because we are too used to hearing about violence, but because we are incapable of emotionally processing it. If humanity felt the full grief of these deaths, the whole world should shut down from sorrow.
Violence, for most of us, only appears in our fantasies. Who hasn’t imagined himself or herself as the valiant action hero, gunning down rows of faceless baddies? Because violence seems like a mere fiction, we cannot accept real violence as fact. A shooter may as well be a monster out of a storybook.
This underwhelming grief combined with an inability to accept the reality of gun violence suggests another mechanism is at work, apart from desensitization. These shootings have left deep scars on the minds of those who watch the news, to the point where these constant reports have traumatized viewers. Every time the news comes on, we watch in fearful anticipation of hearing about another mass murder. Action movies draw huge crowds, but leave a bitter aftertaste. We repress our fear of firearms by turning shooting into a national pastime.
The trauma of gun violence permeates our culture. Technically, the common people are powerless to create legislation that could actually help, at least in this political climate, and preventing gun violence in other countries, like Kenya, is nigh impossible. Theoretically, massive protesting or letter-writing could make the government listen, but I doubt that will happen, especially when we so desperately want gun violence to remain fictional.