The Pain of Paying Attention
Has the staggering frequency in gun violence caused the nation to turn a blind eye?
By: Sammi DiVito
Unbeknownst to the majority of the country, two mass shootings occurred within a mere three days of each other last month. The first took place on January 23rd in a bank in Florida, where a lone gunman in a bullet-proof vest held five people hostages before killing them all with shots to the head and back. This tragedy was followed by another spree on January 26th, when a Louisiana boy killed three members of a family he was staying with using a stolen handgun, before taking their vehicle and driving to his parents' home and shooting them both as well.
Each of these devastations resulted in the loss of five innocent lives. Both were committed by 21-year old men with no clear motive. Both were a result of gun violence. And both received almost no media attention.
Admittedly, countless news outlets published articles regarding the shootings, but after a few days of reporting, the media attention trickled off. Search the shootings online, and developments on the cases are being posted less and less as time goes on. In just a week's time, it’s clear that nobody wants to talk about the incidents anymore and that everyone is content with focusing their attention on different matters. But even with the (albeit small) publicization the shootings received, the stories of the deaths in Louisiana and Florida remained largely out of the spotlight even when they took place, despite the seemingly “newsworthiness” of the situations. This raises a question: what makes stories of gun violence like this no longer worth telling? There seems to be a sense of desensitization to the violence, a result of its possibly long-running repetition. Pair this with the media having difficulty sensationalizing something that has become such an unfortunate commonplace, and the result is people sweeping their problems under the rug.
The nation was shaken to its core when the news first broke back in 1999 that two students opened fire on Columbine high school, shooting and killing 12 students and one teacher, before turning the guns on themselves. And while it was by no means the first school shooting in the United States, it was the first of such magnitude, and the story left everyone trying to wrap their heads around the brutality. Journalists didn’t just cover the shooting for weeks; they dissected it for months and years following, with the media discussing everything from bullying, violent video games, and gun regulations—all in an effort to find a cause. After that, the floodgates were seemingly opened. Since that fateful day, nearly 200 school shootings have taken place, exposing more than 187,000 students to gun violence. However, schools aren’t the only places plagued by such wickedness: in 2017 alone, 39,773 gun-related deaths occurred, with two-thirds of those being suicides. Compare this statistic to when Columbine first took place in 1999, where the gun-related deaths came in at a much lower 28,874.
Repeated exposure to violence has been linked to an emotional desensitization, as well as lowered levels of internalizing symptoms (for example, feeling sympathy towards victims). So, with gun violence occurring as frequently as daily weather reports, it’s no surprise that the media are finding fewer reasons to report about it. The media work on shock-and-awe factor; the more people talk about a story, the more a news outlet can build off the hype to produce more stories about an event and draw in more viewers. As terrible as it sounds, gun violence has become old news. People have been fighting gun violence since the 60’s and have been met with nothing but a rising number of mortality rates paired with the NRA continuously refusing to acknowledge that there is anything wrong with the current system of gun control. It’s enough to make anybody stop caring—not because of lack of heart—but a lack of ability to digest the violent onslaught that is being forcibly presented to the public. If the media aren’t shoving a story down people’s throats, a person is unlikely to hear about it.
A normal person couldn’t handle the burden of every gun incident that occurs today, and it seems as though people are finding it easier to block out with the help of silence in the media. Consider it a defensive coping method of sorts: people are choosing not to notice. With gun violence on what appears to be an upward trend, it’s no surprise that people are going to be looking away more often.