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Foss: Mass shootings are taking a toll

Foss: Mass shootings are taking a toll

Foss: Mass shootings are taking a toll
Dozens of people watch news coverage of the mass shooting while waiting to donate at a blood bank in El Paso, Texas, Saturday.
Photographer: ADRIANA ZEHBRAUSKAS/NEW YORK TIMES

I left home Saturday morning to camp in the woods in Vermont, and it was very peaceful. 

We swam, hiked and relaxed by a campfire. 

There was no internet reception, so I had no idea what was going on in the outside world. When I returned home 24 hours later I was shocked to discover that I'd missed not one but two mass shootings. 

Although perhaps shocked isn't the right word. 

Mass shootings disturb me, sadden me, anger me and bewilder me ... but they've become so common I tend to regard them with a resigned horror. "Here we go again," I often think. 

And, "Will it ever stop?" 

Increasingly I fear that the answer is no. 

In fact, my immediate reaction to the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, was that I wanted to return to the woods, and not just for a short vacation, but to live there. I also wondered whether maybe I'd be better off avoiding places and events where lots of people gather.

Withdrawing from society isn't something I consider a viable approach to life, and I dismissed these thoughts fairly quickly. The fear, however, has not been quite so easy to dismiss. 

We're often told that mass shootings are statistically rare, but there's something uniquely terrifying about a rage-filled gunman descending upon a public space and indiscriminately killing strangers. 

That many of the shooters are motivated by hateful white supremacist beliefs only adds to the terror.

These attacks are notable for the number of lives they destroy, but also for the larger toll they take on the country. 

An article at The Trace, a non-profit news organization that tracks and reports on gun violence in America, suggests that mass shootings are destroying our sense of public space -- tearing "new holes" in the sense of safety and community that make public life possible.

The article mentions four mass shootings: the shooting in El Paso, which took place at a Walmart; the shooting in Dayton at a popular downtown entertainment district; the shooting at a California garlic festival that killed three people at the end of July; and a shooting at a block party in Brooklyn that killed one and injured 11 on July 27. 

"In the aftermath of attacks like the four in the past week -- difficult to prevent, unpredictable and yet seemingly inevitable in a country with so many poorly controlled guns -- authorities and businesses are forced to rethink how people congregate," writes Alex Yablon. "Security begins to take priority over other values. The killings traumatize countless other Americans, distorting how we engage with the world outside our own homes." 

Now, I see people interacting with each other in public spaces all the time. 

But this doesn't mean public spaces aren't changing, or that the way we interact with others in these spaces isn't changing as well. 

And while increased surveillance and security is nothing new, Yablon's piece captures the growing weariness many of us feel when confronted by news of another shooting -- the reluctance to go out and engage with the wider world, the desire for safety above all else. 

It doesn't have to be this way. 

And it shouldn't be this way. 

But I've seen far too many of these killings to believe a solution or plan for addressing them is in the works.

I wish I felt differently. 

But after two mass shootings in one weekend, I can't feign optimism, or pretend that I see change on the horizon. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.    

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