“We shouldn’t be afraid to shop, worship or go to school,” reads the headline over a recent column from Jim Shaw.
Is anyone really afraid to do those things?
Maybe some, but are those feelings based in factual reality or just feelings?
Despite the intense (and at times downright ghoulish) media focus on mass shootings, not to mention the anthill of political loudmouths and celebrities trying to outdo one another in a sort of sanctimony olympics, millions upon millions of Americans shopped and worshiped and got ready for an impending school year without thinking even once that they might be gunned down by some lunatic.
Which is exactly how it should be.
Fear and hysteria are useful political tools, but when wielded by demagogues like Shaw we can usually trust that they aren’t grounded in fact.
Someone like Shaw doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about public policy and it’s relationship to how we live our lives, because for them that’s not what politics is about.
For them it’s a team sport, and a mass shooting is just an opportunity to score points on the other side.
It might be fine to let people like this go around shouting at clouds, but unfortunately their efforts contribute to misleading assumptions by the public.
The national press corps would have us believe that mass shootings have become more frequent, and that in recent years the admittedly divisive approach to politics taken by President Donald Trump and his supporters have contributed to them. “Another thing that will help is for Trump to stop his divisive, hateful and dangerous rhetoric,” Shaw wrote in his column.
(Because Shaw, a former journalist, is blinkered by his hatred for people who don’t think like does, he doesn’t mention the divisive and hateful rhetoric which also comes from the left.)
Those of us interested in facts, not sensationalism or puddle-deep political pontification, can see that mass shootings aren’t actually happening with more frequency. In fact, if anything, they’ve been in a slight decline since the 2016 election cycle as Dr. Christopher Ferguson demonstrates with this graphic:
People like Shaw want you to be scared because that serves their preferred political narrative. The truth is you shouldn’t feel any more scared today than you did in 2006. In fact, given the overall decline in violent crime America has enjoyed over the last few decades, if anything you should feel less scared than ever.
Mass shootings, for all the attention they receive, are a fraction of a fraction of the violent crime committed in the United States even at the current, historically low levels.
Nor are many of the assumptions about who is committing these crimes correct. We are often told these shootings are a product of angry, white men. That their commission is tied to racism and misogyny.
It’s certainly almost all of these attacks are perpetrated by men (a small minority are female) but the racial demographics don’t quite fit the political talking points. As Dr. Ferguson points out, white males are actually slightly under-represented in the ranks of mass shooters relative to their makeup of the overall population. Blacks and Asians, meanwhile, are slightly over-represented:
“Overall…the ethnic composition of the group of all mass shooters in the U.S. is roughly equivalent to the American population,” Ferguson writes.
Politics is more about how people feel than how things really are. Economic conditions in the country can be very good, but if the public doesn’t feel that way they aren’t going to vote that way and it doesn’t really matter what the facts are.
That’s what people like Shaw want to do. They want you to feel fear and loathing, and ignore certain facts, so that you’ll react the way they want you to politically.
Americans shouldn’t fall prey to it.