The United States of Anxiety
What happened last weekend in Las Vegas is not, in the strictest sense, a Second Amendment issue. It is symptomatic of something deeper. There is little doubt that if more restrictive laws were in place to limit the sale of certain types of weapons, as well as devices that increase their lethality, the terror unleashed may have been less devastating.
Gun regulations or restrictions, even those as benign as background checks and waiting periods, arouse divisiveness and hostility among many Americans. Emotions and fears run high, preventing both sides of the issue from honestly and intelligently sitting down and arriving at a place where gun aficionados and Second Amendment stalwarts can maintain their Constitutional rights while, at the same time, effecting concessions that protect the interests of the public at large.
This is a debate that will continue to rage, increasingly so with each mass shooting and act of terror. Politicization of the horrors experienced in Las Vegas, Newtown, Orlando, San Bernardino, and Columbine is par for the course for both sides of the issue. The time for rational consensus on how best to confront unwarranted violence is now.
Unless you are one of the family members or friends of someone directly or indirectly involved with the tragedy in Las Vegas, this frightening moment in time will soon become one in a series of blurred memories; one more nightmare held in our collective conscious. What will remain, however, is an anxiety more existential in nature. One that affects all of us.
A decade-and-a-half into the 21st Century, Americans find themselves living in an age of detachment, disengagement, and isolation. Many are increasingly ethnocentric and intolerant of different worldviews.
In the wake of 9/11, we were thrust into a new reality, where boundaries -both physical and psychological -no longer afforded us the sense of security to which we’d long been accustomed. The realization that North Korea has the capacity to do us harm aggravates those fears, as does Russia’s ability to not only manipulate our electoral process and its outcomes, but our perceptions of self as well.
Many have endured economic turmoil, a decline in living standards, and the erosion of our highest hopes and expectations.
We have witnessed natural disasters and have been startled at our government’s inability to respond to those in need adequately enough or with the rapidity that we’d expected from a nation of our stature.
We are still subject to diseases -ancient and emerging. Poverty still exists in the greatest country on earth. Children still go hungry. Homelessness is pervasive in big cities and small towns. There is an opioid epidemic. Adequate healthcare is not available to us all.
We have disconnected from friends, neighbors, and even family members. Many of us have turned away from human interaction, increasingly finding solace in inanimate objects: smartphones, tablets, computers. People no longer talk, they text; sometimes to others a room away.
The world can be a scary place. Retreat from it is somewhat understandable. The anxieties many of us experience are not unfounded, yet the sky is not falling, even when it is raining bullets from above. Beyond the terror and carnage, what Las Vegas demonstrated (as did Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria) is that our humanity -though often obscured -is never far away when it is most needed. Complete strangers helped one another and, in some cases, saved lives. First responders did their jobs unflinchingly. People connected in profound ways.
At the height of last Sunday’s devastation, many Americans were forced to confront their worst fears. While those on the ground and those closest to them will be forever scarred by the night’s events, the public’s response to their plight and the outpouring of love and support they received from people previously unknown to them may be of some comfort.
One can only hope that the divisiveness and dread presently dividing Americans will ultimately bring us together. Conquering our fears, rediscovering our potential for goodness, and reconnecting as a people requires civil discourse. Eradicating our anxieties is a battle that cannot be won with guns or conflict.
To best honor the victims, we must trust in each other and in ourselves. Let the dialogue begin.