The Washington Post
Another slaughter in Texas, this time in Odessa, four hours east of El Paso, where 22 people lost their lives just four weeks prior. Together, the two death tolls contributed to an overall count of 53 killed in mass shooting incidents in the United States this August alone.
When I lived in Texas, just 10 years ago, I spent much of my time in settings like those now marked by bloodshed: at Walmarts, with their endless parking lots glazed in late summer's heat shimmer; in the hard, hardy grass of suburban front lawns; blinking through blazing white sunlight on stretches of interstate. Back then, I didn't think of any of those common places as locations where people are slain at random. Now, I do.
Such is the effect of each mass shooting: Along with their casualties and their injuries and the families they shatter and the communities they debilitate, every episode of mass gun death transforms a previously ordinary place into a charnel house. First, post offices, home to a series of workplace murders in the 1980s and onward that left us the grim expression "going postal." Then schools, which have become sites of such intense anxiety that Republicans have proposed outfitting them with retinues of armed guards or otherwise arming teachers and staff. And now, everywhere else - movie theaters, outdoor concerts, night clubs, food festivals, shopping centers, sitting in traffic, standing on your family's front lawn.
It is often pointed out that lawmakers who publicly mourn the lives destroyed in mass shootings but refuse to legislate against the weapons that enable them are contributing, in a passive but significant way, to future killings. But these politicians are also presiding over another morbid phenomenon, one that has crept on as American mass shootings have accumulated: the terrorizing of the American people, and the gradual closing-up of American public life.
First-graders are routinely faced with the question of what they ought to do if someone appears at their school intent on killing them. Moviegoers arriving at crowded premieres can expect to have their bags searched or to be monitored by armed guards. After passing through metal detectors, attendees at outdoor food festivals can anticipate surveillance by police on motorcycles or horseback, patrolling security barriers on the perimeters of the grounds. It isn't that the safety precautions aren't welcome, but rather that they come at a cost. They're the scars left by prior shootings and a tangible memento mori. Death stalks grocery-store aisles and elementary school corridors, and it's possible to remember a time when it didn't.
But that time is ending. Each mass shooting forecloses the innocence of another place, another time, another activity. The majority of teenagers and their parents already worry about school shootings; as more settings become venues for mass violence, the fear will only spread, bringing its visible signals with it. Gun deaths belong in some sense to the lawmakers who are charged with the responsibility to care for the public but fail to meet their obligations, and so, too, does the darkening of American life, and all the liberty and happiness that terror cloaks in shadow.