A second teenage girl has died as a result of Friday's shooting at a Washington state high school. Several others students remain in critical condition.
In a nation preoccupied by Ebola, most people have become numb to yet another school shooting. A new case of Ebola captures much more attention. And in this shooting, the number of dead is already too low to attract significant media attention or print press coverage.
Numbing can be dangerous, though initially it serves to protect the psyche from potentially overwhelming anxiety. As we get used to horrific events we begin to distance ourselves from whatever emotional turmoil they might cause.
The obvious difference between gun violence and Ebola is that nobody defends the rights of Ebola victims to possess the virus. The number of deaths in the United States from gun violence itself has a numbing effect on even those who favor stricter gun control laws. It just gets repeated frequently and then compared to the small numbers of people killed by guns in any European country.
The obvious similarity between gun violence and Ebola is that both give rise to primitive fears. The former is fear of being attacked and of being defenseless against an external threat, much the way a child feels about an abusive parent. The latter is the fear of being contaminated and poisoned by a small speck of invisible substance that also enters from outside but that will kill us from the inside.
Quarantines and protective garb seek to block all germs from entering the body. Anti-immigration advocates seek to protect "their" United States from foreign contamination. But with guns, we use a mechanism of defense first expressed by abused children -- we threaten to bully those weaker than ourselves. The old story of the man who kicks his son who kicks the dog is at play here, and describes the problem clearly: I will not be afraid of your gun if I have my own.
Having a gun may be a prop to protect gun owners from unresolved childhood fears, primarily the fear of a menacingly unpredictable parent. Carrying a gun may make one feel emboldened at first, but over time, feelings of distrust and paranoia may recur. Sometimes the objects of fear change; now the NRA fears gun regulation as much as it does criminals. A further source of insecurity arises from the very fact that owning guns increases feelings of possibility.
At another high school, this one in Nebraska, graduating students can pose for their yearbook pictures while holding a gun. Acknowledging that such pictures might invite gun violence, the superintendent of that high school told the press that that they would only publish pictures that were "tasteful and appropriate."
Young people frightened of the future -- of uncertainty in the adult world -- can boost their self-confidence posing with a firearm. Most of the photographs ring hollow, however, and depict young people revealing a need to triumph over fear. And guns offer an easy way -- easier than thinking or talking -- to solve problems. As a side effect, the whole process leaves much unsaid -- such as the idea that girls are property to be possessed, fought over, or even killed if they reject a boy that needs a gun to express his otherwise inexpressible shame, hurt, and rage.