What do a school, a movie theater, a shopping mall and a place of worship have in common? These are all places you might visit multiple times within a typical week, without even a second thought. Now consider the possibility that you might get shot at any of these places.
If the idea seems a little far-fetched, let’s try putting some names to these places. Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi could have been your weekend shopping destination. The church in Charleston, South Carolina could have been a Sunday staple with your family and neighbors. You might have booked tickets for this weekend at a movie theater, just like the one in Aurora. Or the school where you hastily dropped your kids off on a weekday morning could have been in Peshawar or Newtown. The very thought of that last one still hurts.
We have always witnessed violence behind the safety of a newspaper or a TV screen. War is fought far away. Terrorists attack important places. Kidnappings, bomb blasts and gang rapes happen to a few unlucky people who are too far away for us to even relate to. All of these incidents are minor blips on our news radar – just a bunch of unfortunate events that we stumble upon while shuffling through our daily lives. Gun violence is now just another uncomfortable yet unavoidable part of our reality.
Back when we were kids, we pretended to shoot guns at each other – not because they were powerful or dangerous – but because they belonged only in a fantasy world, far away from our regular lives. Like dinosaurs, capes and princesses. However guns have leapt off our screens into our lives with such jarring violence, that we now react by suspending a schoolkid simply for chewing his snack into an ‘L’ shape and pretending it’s a gun. That actually happened.
Every major violent news story in recent times has grabbed our attention, most likely because it was previously unheard of – church killings, school massacres, movie theater shootings. In several cases, the perpetrator has no connection to the place or the victims, but chose it simply to grab headlines or to make a statement – Charleston, Sandy Hook, Aurora. Every single time, we have witnessed the story blow up on national news, because we couldn’t believe that such incredible violence would explode into our common, boring lives.
But it gets bigger and scarier every time a new mass shooter picks a more vulnerable target or a less imaginable setting to outdo his predecessors. By the time gun violence eventually made its way to live television this week, I have lost the ability to even flinch at such incidents and statistics (below). Instead, I shudder at the thought of what is yet to come.