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Joined: 25 Aug 2013
Age: 66
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Location: Long Island, New York

23 Nov 2022, 11:38 pm

'Am I safe being in public?' For many, mass shootings make a sense of danger inescapable

Chesapeake. Colorado Springs. Uvalde. Buffalo. Portland. Highland Park.

Mass shootings in big cities and small towns across the country have risen in the wake of the 2020 pandemic lockdowns. And amidst the grief and shock and loss, each one prompts more businesses, schools, hotels or nightclubs to toughen their own security response. 

And that, experts say, contributes to a simmering anxiety for potentially millions of Americans. While death in a mass shooting remains incredibly rare, public reminders of them are omnipresent. News about them is frequent. And the next one appears impossible to predict. 

In between those two attacks, six other people were killed and 14 others wounded in shootings in Oklahoma, Mississippi, Texas and Illinois, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, which catalogs shootings of four or more people, excluding the shooter.

For the victims and survivors, each attack is intensely personal. And for the rest of us, each new attack chips away at out sense of safety and community. For some, the daily reminders become impossible to ignore. 

"It’s horrible we all have to live with this fear in the back of our minds constantly," said Haylea Turner, 24, a longtime Club Q patron.

Turner was not at the club that night. She said that's in part because she's grown cautious about going places where other shootings have occurred, from movie theaters to college classrooms. 

"Due to the senseless nature of gun violence in America that is only horrifically worsening, I have lived a more sheltered life out of sheer fear," she said.

Recent years have set new records for the total number of mass shootings in the U.S., according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. Last year, with 690 total incidents, was the highest number since the project began tracking shootings in 2014. For this year, that number stood at 608 as of Wednesday. 

A separate joint effort by the Associated Press and USA TODAY that tracks mass killings, in which four or more people are killed, shows a similar trajectory. 

At the same time, more guns are being sold than ever before: Annual gun sales peaked during the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 21.5 million sold in 2020. Another 19 million were sold last year – the second-highest ever recorded – amidst a shift in gun marketing from hunting to self-defense.

In addition to the firearms, manufacturers are heavily marketing things like concealed-weapons holsters in yoga pants and secret gun safes built into SUV headrests, so buyers can be prepared to confront an active shooter no matter the circumstances

In Uvalde, officials are planning to bulldoze the elementary school where 22 students and teachers died on May 24, with plans to build a state-of-the-art campus with enhanced security measures.

In Boulder, many grocery stores are now protected by armed police officers or private security guards, a legacy of the March 22, 2021, shooting in which a gunman killed 10 people at a King Soopers supermarket.

In San Francisco, the Club Q shooting prompted bar owner Chris Hastings to schedule new trainings in "active shooter" response for his staff at the Lookout bar, a popular spot in San Francisco’s Castro District, one of the nation’s most best-known LGBTQ neighborhoods. 

Hastings said his staff underwent the training following the 2016 Pulse nightclub mass shooting that killed 46 people in Orlando, and it includes turning down club lights and music to reduce confusion should an attack occur. Staff also have memorized paths to the exits so they can help patrons escape, he said.

“I’m angry that things like this keep happening, I’m anxious for the staff and the patrons who come in,” said Hastings. “I’m frustrated that we need to take precautions to have more training so people can have a good time.”

Experts told USA TODAY that while the likelihood of falling victim to a mass shooting is incredibly small, the fact they happen in such unpredictable locations triggers an ongoing trauma response for many people.

Even when it's not your grocery store, your school, your movie theater, the reminders feel inescapable.

"It’s only human to ask ourselves questions like, 'Is it safe for me to go to the grocery store? Is it safe for me to drop my kids off at school? Is it safe for me to go out to dinner? Am I safe being in public?’" said Stephanie Robilio, a clinical director for Agape Behavioral Health Care in Fort Lauderdale.

She added: “You can see if you or another person are having thoughts like these, imagine what this does to our collective mental health?”

Steven Adelman, an attorney and vice president of the Connecticut-based Event Safety Alliance, said mass shootings create tension in our minds because we know they're rare but we simultaneously fear the unknown. Adelman has served as an expert witness in personal injury lawsuits following mass shootings, including the Las Vegas Route 91 Harvest music festival.

Adelman said the pandemic is a good example of how most people respond to a traumatic experience: while a relatively small number of people are still avoiding large gatherings or poorly ventilated indoor spaces, the fact Club Q was open and busy demonstrates most people resume their normal behavior relatively quickly.

“It’s important not to be a fearmonger," Adelman, 59, said. "We are creatures of habit. When there is an interruption in the usual way of doing things, it causes people to vary their responses for a while, but after that while passes, many people will resume their activity they enjoyed before.”

In Uvalde, Nancy Sutton and her husband installed security cameras and started more consistently carrying concealed firearms, a legacy of the shooting in one of the many schools where they routinely work as class photographers. She said tension on the nearby U.S.-Mexico border already had them on edge, but the attack on Robb Elementary has shaken their faith in the safety of their small town, where they knew every child and teacher killed.

"The shooting has made us more cautious and aware of our surroundings," said Sutton, 59. Still, it hasn't stopped them from attending school-related events or other large gatherings. 

Many people on the periphery of a shooting suffer what's known as “secondary trauma,” said James Miller, a licensed psychotherapist and nationally syndicated radio talk show host. 

“This happens when there’s an event where we see or hear something that can cause us to have a level of trauma, PTSD, or compassion fatigue,” Miller said. “We may experience the same types of symptoms as those who were there, as we can fill in the blanks to the terror or pain the victims must’ve felt. 

“Maybe not to the same extent, but pretty similar symptoms,” Miller said.

While experts said time can help soften the immediate impacts, that's not always an option for emergency responders or even grocery store workers, who are increasingly finding themselves at risk.

After the 2021 Boulder attack, union workers collectively bargained to get company-provided mass-shooter safety training, and are learning new de-escalation techniques to deal with angry customers, said Kim Cordova, the president of Colorado's Local 7 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

Cordova, 55, said a customer wearing camouflage shorts, a face mask and tactical-style gloves recently came into a Colorado store with an AR-15-style rifle slung across his back, frightening customers and workers. Although the man wasn't confronted for violating store policy and left without incident, it rattled the staff, Cordova said.

“You’re just waiting for the next bad thing to happen," she said. "It's just scary that we do have to live in fear."


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Joined: 15 Sep 2008
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24 Nov 2022, 12:26 pm

It does seem that the idea of humans murdering other humans is creepier to a lot of people than the rather greater risk of dying from most other causes.

I don't worry about it much myself. Maybe it's because I'm in the Arkansas countryside where there's no obvious convenient targets for far-right nutcases, though some of the nutcases don't seem politically-motivated, and I know of 2 locals who possess assault rifles, and I don't know them well enough to be quite convinced that they only plan to use them for self-defense in case of some bizarre emergency. Why do they own those things in the first place? Yet it doesn't bother me from day to day.

Or maybe it's something to do with my unusual degree of impermeability to a lot of these irrational psychological things. Not saying I'm Mr. Spock, and I fell for the occasional trick of the mind when I was younger. Decades ago in the UK, a splinter group of the IRA blew up a public bar in Birmingham. Not long afterwards I was on a train that stopped at Birmingham station on its way to somewhere else. I could hardly wait for that train to get out of there. But I seem to have become more rational about risk.


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Joined: 5 Jan 2010
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Location: Lost on Earth, waddya think?

25 Nov 2022, 12:13 pm

Humans just naturally think the answer to all the world's problems is to kill each other. Animals kill their own species too, but humans supposedly have the intelligence and sense of morality not to. Supposedly.