May 24, 2022

Ten years… Ten years ago, a deeply disturbed adolescent entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and killed twenty students, mainly kindergarteners, and six adults. Today, a deeply disturbed adolescent entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas and, at last count, killed eighteen students and two adults. In the intervening decade, we have made our children do active shooter drills, discussed arming school personnel, subscribed to the myth that more good guys with more guns would stop mass shootings, watched while the teenagers of Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school did far more to curb the power of the National Rifle Association than any of the adults in our society, and, in general ignored the irrefutable evidence that more guns in more hands always leads to more gun deaths.

What will happen this time? There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth as the news cycle fills with stories of grieving parents and a shattered community until the next ratings grab distracts them and the TV vans pack up and race out of town, leaving a community with an empty center that won’t ever be completely healed. Ask the people of New Town if there lives are the same or if they would be better were there twenty additional teenagers at the local high school, young people who should be negotiating the craziness of adolescence and thinking about college plans, not buried as shattered corpses only a few short years out of toddlerhood. Let’s face it. Our society regards our guns as more valuable than our children. If we didn’t, we would elect representatives who would actually take prolife positions on sensible gun control laws. But we seem to be perfectly happy with our occasional sacrifices to the gods in the form of mass shootings, capital punishment, vigilantism, untreated mental illness, and all the other ways in which innocent individuals meet violent ends in our society.

I suppose the lack of empathy in our society which allows for us to collectively shrug off a school of dead children is the same lack of empathy that allows us to blithely ignore that we’re still in the midst of a world wide pandemic and that our numbers in regards to Covid infection are all trending the wrong way again. We’re over it and we don’t think it’s going to happen to us, so off to some other distraction such as the high cost of gasoline. The current omicron subvariant, BA 2.12.1 has come out of nowhere the last few weeks to now be the dominant strain in the US, moving from less than 30% of infections two weeks ago to nearly 60% this week. And we’re back up to roughly 100,000 infections a day. This subvariant is about 25% more infectious than the prior omicron strains which is why it’s spreading more rapidly. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be more virulent and hospitalization rates are remaining relatively low. But if this sort of infectiousness mutation happens in a strain that causes more serious clinical disease, we may rapidly get into trouble again.

Being on the cusp between the Baby Boom and Generation X, I didn’t have anything like active shooter drills in elementary school. We didn’t even really have the famous ‘duck and cover’ drills of the older Boomers. (Someone in the educational hierarchy of the Seattle Public Schools must have figured out that if you’re being vaporized by a nuclear weapon, ducking under a desk wasn’t likely to be of much help). I’m trying to remember what my fears were in elementary school. I entered kindergarten right after the 1967 ‘Summer of Love’ and I do remember walking home from school with my best friend and seeing peace symbols spray painted on the trees in the park by a vandalizing teen and being convinced that they were airplanes and that it meant our neighborhood was going to be razed for a new airport. We kids warned each other of the dangers of eating unwrapped Halloween treats as they could be laced with ‘goof balls’. We didn’t know exactly what those were but we knew they were bad. I was vaguely aware of the civil unrest of 1968 and the Vietnam war news was always in the background but none of that made that much of an impression on elementary school me as that was far away from our placid faculty ghetto neighborhood.

We’re living in a time of high levels of anxiety. It’s a spiral. The politics of divisiveness, the media frenzy, the pandemic. All of these create anxiety which bathes our brain and our bodies in catecholamines and other hormones that ready us for fight or flight, heightening our receptiveness to danger signals which keep coming in. We can’t live with that amount of stress and angst without it coming out in some way. In me, it’s coming out as exhaustion, inattention, and disconnectedness. I notice in others, as a result of my professional work, that it comes out as hair trigger temper, rage at mild or imagined slights, and a need for a feeling of control, no matter the cost. No wonder gun violence, motor vehicle accidents, and other issues linked to anger or erratic behavior are seriously on the increase over the last few years.

I’ve never owned a gun. I’ve never wanted to. I was taught how to shoot and I’m a reasonable shot but anyone who works in health care knows that the number one risk factor for getting shot in life is the presence of a firearm in the home so I’m not planning on arming myself. When society collapses and the hordes are ascending the hill to plunder the condominiums overlooking the Jones Valley, I suppose I’m a sitting duck but I’m not sure I want to survive into the aftermath.

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