The Right to Kill


By Kyra Hudson

When Alex Poe ’20 visited the Santa Monica Promenade, one of her regular hangout spots, last week, her trip quickly went south. As she walked from store to store, Poe began to notice fearful shop attendants closing their businesses due to a potential security violation. Reminded of all the recent headlines about shootings on the news, Poe said she automatically believed the incident to be a mass shooting. Poe’s assumption was not far from the truth.
“[The workers in the stores] wouldn’t tell me what exactly was going on, and I was really scared and just [didn’t] know what to do,” Poe said. “I assumed that it was probably a shooting scare, since I had heard about so many in the news lately.”
While the Los Angeles Police Department confirmed that there was no active shooter on-site, the incident involved an armed security officer who fired a gun to subdue a knife-wielding man. Poe said that the entire experience made her fear for her life because she witnessed firsthand the unfortunate, yet frequent, reality of mass shootings.
“To a certain extent, [shootings] have become so common that I’ll hear about them day after day in the news, and I’ll almost be expecting it where it really isn’t as shocking to me anymore,” Poe said. “It seems more like an everyday occurrence than something that should be truly horrific, so I think it’s important to remember that this isn’t normal.”
Even though the disturbance at the Promenade was only a scare, it represents a nationwide trend. So far in 2019, there have been 279 mass shootings in the United States, killing 262 people, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
While news of gun violence has flooded the media for years, this summer’s back-to-back shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio the weekend of Aug. 4 stunned the country, according to the New York Times. Between the high number of casualties and the short mourning period between the El Paso tragedy and the shock of Dayton, the issue of gun violence has become a major topic of conversation in the media this past month.
Because the number of shootings has steadily increased—there has been only one week since 2013 without an incident—gun violence is now dominating the media, according to the National Public Radio.
“The media needs to stop sensationalizing [shootings] and especially needs to stop reports of the perpetrator’s history, character and motives,” Clay Skaggs ’20 said. “By broadcasting detailed information about shootings, media outlets turn tragedies into a trivial, sick form of entertainment which numbs the public. While the ability to commit such a crime so easily may be due to America’s unique gun culture, the solidification of mass shootings as an all-too-frequent phenomenon is due to America’s opportunistic media culture.”
At least 27 people have been arrested for threatening to commit mass shootings since the incidents in El Paso and Dayton, according to CNN. Though gun violence continues to increase, Americans feel a growing sense of numbness and desensitization as a coping mechanism for the gravity of the shootings, according to Time Magazine.
“Because these things are so overwhelming, our central nervous system basically shuts down past a point,” Bruce Harry, an associate professor of clinical and forensic psychiatry at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, said in an interview with Time Magazine. “These are not things we’re hardwired to endure.”
Violence has been proven to desensitize people to what they witness, according to the Journal of Youth and Adolescence. This phenomenon was previously present in only those exposed to high levels of brutality. However, because the media now covers more graphic incidents than ever, individuals have adopted these tactics to manage how they deal with the national tragedies, according to The Cut.
“Tragedies, such as mass shootings, can produce severe levels of heightened stress which trigger feelings of emotional numbness,” Upper School psychologist Sophie Wasson said. “This is a common reaction to trauma. Traumatic stress can overwhelm your system. Your body can become so emotionally and physically fatigued that you have no other choice but to shut down and become numb. It comes from our body and mind’s need to protect ourselves in the face of overwhelming feelings.”
To combat the emotional shock tragedies bring, making a conscious effort to limit news intake can decrease the desensitization and possible anxiety associated with traumatic media coverage, Wasson said. With this in mind, the school has improved security procedures in order to ensure that students feel safe on campus, Head of Upper School Laura Ross said.
“We were sitting there in that meeting and I was thinking, ‘I can’t believe that our reality is spending this much time talking about active shooters, how to barricade a door and running to the Ralphs if you have to leave campus,’” Ross said. “We’re so process-oriented about it. We want to give people opportunities to process, be activists and try to make things better, but at the same time, our responsibility as a school is thinking about if we are doing everything we can to keep people safe.”