LAX is not trending on Twitter. Seventy-two hours after a man opened fire on our gateway to the world, there is no discernible outcry for action, little apparent conversation at all. As I write these words, the latest mass shooting is not on the front page of the left-leaning Huffington Post or the right-leaning Drudge Report. It’s not lighting up the social media outlets where average people exchange points of view, or the op-ed pages where our nation's elite do the same. The president called the head of the TSA to express condolences, but there will be no presidential visit to console the families of the victims. And that’s probably just as well because it would just make everyone complain about the traffic. Unpleasant though it may be to admit, it seems we’ve become uncomfortably numb.
In fairness, even horrifying attacks are relative: One adult dead and many wounded is not equivalent to the mass slaughter of schoolchildren that we witnessed 10 1/2 months ago. That was worse. And reporters for local news outlets -- including The Times -- have more than proven that they, at least, are not numb, with their extensive coverage of the LAX story.
But the question remains: Who cares? Literally, who? When people care, the atmosphere is like it was after the Boston Marathon bombings or the Newtown, Conn., shooting. Can anyone honestly claim that we are in that kind of atmosphere right now? If a body falls -- or five of them fall -- in a forest of exhausted indifference, do they make a sound?
Of course, our numbness to this kind of violence is born not only of its proliferation but of a rational recognition that our government is not up to the task of addressing it. When even the most moderate legislation on guns faces a filibuster in the Senate and won’t be brought up for a vote in the House, practical people can justifiably conclude that arguing about the issue further is a futile academic exercise. Even those who don’t follow politics know that there’s no change forthcoming, so they throw up their hands. Meanwhile, conservative leaders who insisted on improvements to the American mental health system as an alternative to gun legislation have not been forthcoming with concrete proposals. And so our country is at an impasse, with its citizens caught in the crossfire.
Inevitably, firearms fundamentalists argue that “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This is a brilliantly empowering slogan, the kind that could lift us all out of our desensitized malaise. After all, it’s fun to imagine that our personal security and well-being are all within our hands, that powerlessness is a malignant fantasy of the weak. But the events at LAX last Friday showed both the truth and the lie of the “good guy with a gun” promise: Yes, because the gunman’s target, a major airport, is one of the most security-heavy facilities in the country, he was brought down quickly by armed police. Even so, he also proved that no matter how many good guys with guns you have around, when a crazy person can spray off 700 rounds in a minute, he only needs a few seconds to do plenty of damage.
In a way, it’s really a shame that the airport shooter wasn’t Arab or Muslim. If he had been, the incident would have been deemed an act of terrorism, and terrorism warrants a serious response. But he was white instead of Middle Eastern and used a gun instead of a bomb, so now it’s not terrorism; it’s the price of freedom.
If there’s any silver lining in all this -- and it is a very slim silver lining -- it’s that maybe TSA agents will be given a little bit more respect, at least for a while. Perhaps people will be reminded that as annoying as it may be to have someone rifling through their belongings, TSA agents are, at the end of the day, security employees who are worthy of the esteem that designation implies. A few bad apples may make headlines for bad behavior, but the majority are hardworking people who deserve at least as much deference as the guards who work at government buildings or Staples Center.
Ultimately, the increasing frequency of mass shootings has given us a choice: live in panic and despair, or learn to suck it up and deal. Given the options of jitters or jadedness, the impulse to keep calm and carry on is understandable. There is even a sense of something like relief because there was only one fatality at LAX, a foreboding knowledge that next time we might not be so “lucky.”
The thing is, though, LAX was just one of several mass shootings in recent days. Eventually, inevitably, something will have to wake us from our self-protective stupor. I just fear what that thing might be.
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