Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I’m kind of a mess over the [fill in the blank] shooting. My heart goes out to the victims and their families. I’m also just so angry. I’m so angry we have to live in a world like this. I’m angry I can’t go to a concert or movie without risking my life. I’m supposed to go to a concert next week and I’m not sure if I can bring myself to do it. I’m angry I have to be even more worried about my first solo trip soon, which I was already nervous about. I’m angry I have to worry about my nephew going to elementary school every day and my brother taking night classes. The fact that I work in a government facility seems even more pronounced now.
What can we do, short of locking ourselves in our houses? There’s no point in moving abroad; these things are happening everywhere. We just have to sit around and wait for the next one to happen. Thanks for letting me vent, Carolyn.
Dear A Mess: Happy to, but not just as a public venting service. I am also happy for the opportunity to rebut some of what you said.
Yes, these things are awful, and yes, your heart and my heart and so many hearts have been broken with the senseless violence and loss. Yes, anger, yes.
But, these things aren’t “happening everywhere.” They’re happening here.
And yet: “I can’t go to a concert or to the movies without risking my life”? No. You’re conflating unacceptable violence with unacceptable risk.
Statistically, you’re still way more likely to come to harm in a typical, mundane way — car accident, say, or a slip-and-fall. Even the risk posed by a gun is much higher for the person owning it, or the owner’s family — bit.ly/BradyStats — than for the stranger like you going about your day.
You are also way, way more likely not to come to harm from anything accidental or violent. American life expectancy is (still) long, and where it’s going down, it’s largely a factor of nonviolent societal trends (read: overdoses (bit.ly/LifeExp17)).
It’s entirely possible and not a tangent to suggest the smartphones we’re all staring at are much more of a threat to our way of life — and certainly to our peace of mind — than tricked-out guns (bit.ly/DumFone).
So, this is not to say there isn’t real stuff to be upset and worried about, and that we aren’t overdue as a society to discuss gun access and gun violence and mental-health-care coverage and disproportionate violence against people of color and the ways we equip first responders and what “freedom” actually means and and and — all crucial issues we need to address with much cooler heads than we’ve managed so far. This is not to say change isn’t badly needed. But please take the time to sift through some numbers before you lock yourself inside. There’s not just horror in those numbers, there’s perspective.
Maybe for you it points less to locking down and more to hitting the streets. Doing your homework (and some self-care, in Tuesday’s column) would make any activism you decide to undertake much smarter and more effective, should you choose to make use of your anger that way.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.