Most Likely, Gun Violence Won’t Be What Kills You (or Saves You)

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I am deeply sorry for the pain and loss that tens of thousands are feeling, not only for Las Vegas but for the hundreds of mass shootings that have proceeded it. It is impossible to imagine how deep this pain is for anyone who’s loved ones are injured or dead.

There was a time when these events were rare. When out of respect for the grieving and victims alike, we would hesitate to engage this conversation, hold off on bringing our agendas and laying them out at the feet of the dead. But now, there is not a day when we are not facing another such event. These is no time when this is not happening. So, with a sense of dread and uncertainty due to the ugly volitility of this issue, but also out of respect for what is most certainly coming next, it is my choice to engage it.

We all need to be talking.


Here in America, we have a singularly catastrophic gun violence problem. It is on a scale unlike any other advanced Western nation. The tragedy in Las Vegas is just another drumbeat example of what happens when you distribute weapons of war across a large population of human beings. A few of them turn those guns on the rest of us.

In 2016, 15,079 people died from gun violence in the US. US traffic deaths were around 40,000 that year. This does not excuse the brutal and senseless loss of 15,079 lives to gun violence. Its simply statistical evidence that points to the following.

Some terrible risks, like mass shootings, we highlight as unacceptable. Some terrible risks, like car accidents, we accept. And then there’s the third category of risk. The ones we don’t see coming. The meta waves that sweep across populations and kill us in the millions. Waves of our own making. Waves we have to own.

My Facebook feed brought me this today from a father to be who is deeply invested in gun culture:

As for why I carry a pistol, medical, armor and knowledge, it’s for reasons already stated. The government does not and cannot guarantee a right to life, it’s a fallacy. My decisions to own and carry these things on my person are me taking account for my life and those I love, in my own way.
Fear has little do with it. I am responsible for keeping my soon to be adopted child, my fiancé, and myself above ground. That responsibility, I personally do not take lightly and therefore want every tool within reason at my disposal to help me in achieving that.

This is just a guy out there somewhere in America. He’s literally talking about his family in terms of keeping them “above ground.” He sees a loved one’s funeral in his future, a funeral that could happen if he doesn’t arm himself. He’s saying what a lot of guys are saying. The world is a dangerous place and someone out there is a danger to me and my family. What’s more, I won’t know which individual is the threat until the attack happens.

And here’s the part that sucks so very, very much. The majority of these comments are made by decent warm hearted people. They live lives that we can easily relate to. They have backyard BBQ’s and they hold their kids close. But somewhere along the line, they got sold the idea that someone is going to try and kill them. Even as crime is on the decline in America, they believe it is on the rise.

And there it is, the root of our collective problem. This kind of threat-tracking mindset is the real risk to our collective survival. And before any of us start patting ourselves on the back, rest assured, most of us have some version of this mindset. Whether left or right, we are all trapped in a gordian knot of social/political judgement, fear, shaming and condemnation.

The political powers that be, in partnership with activist media, have trained millions of decent Americans into binary mindsets. When I say decent Americans, I don’t include White Nationalists or other violent extremists. Those folks represent a bridge too far. There is no way to reach agreement with them.

In fact, they’re the reason many Americans arrived at our binary positions. It was in direct reaction to wholesale violence by extremists. Violence against people of color, LGBTQ people, women and more. Its been a litany of binary inducing traumas. Yes, we all have our moral absolutes. There are moral absolutes on the right that people hold just as dearly.

And now we are all here, locked in ideological combat and it represents our collective precipice.

We’ve become so reactive, we no longer know how to bridge even minor differences. We can’t manage debate or disagreement even among allies, much less across major divisions. We have collectively forgotten how to take joy in each other as members of a collective national community. We’re deeply weary of each other; waiting to get clubbed over the head with more ideology, more judgement. And some of that’s coming from our own friends. People we have known for years, sometimes for decades, are suddenly tossing the relationship aside and coming at us as if we are to be sternly corrected.

The result is we’re collectively losing the knack of forming relationships, community, and connection. There are other factors in play but its all creating a perfect storm of disconnection.

We can not only focus on the political, while discarding the meta social. The social fabric of our society is something we must also attend to, or we will put all we have built at risk. —

In a survey published by the AARP in 2010, we learn that one in three adultsaged 45 or older reported being chronically lonely. Just a decade before, only one out of five of us said that. And men are facing the brunt of this epidemic of loneliness. Research shows that between 1999 and 2010 suicide among men, age 50 and over, rose by nearly 50%.  reports that “the suicide rate for middle-aged men was 27.3 deaths per 100,000, while for women it was 8.1 deaths per 100,000.”

In an article for the New Republic titled >em class=”markup—em markup—p-em” Judith Schulevitz writes:

>span class=”markup—em markup—blockquote-em”>Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking. A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused by or exacerbated by loneliness would include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer. Tumors can metastasize faster in lonely people.

Forty four million of us are facing health risks equal to that of pack a day smokers. We are angry, lonely and disheartened. We have been sold a bill of goods that we can’t trust each other and that we must track threats over connection and ideology over collaboration. We don’t do compromise. We have lost the art of arriving at agreements. We’re giving up on each other. One major indicator of our collective loss of faith in our fellow Americans is our growing epidemic of loneliness.

The statistical likelihood today is that social isolation and disconnection are the issues that will cut our lives short, and instead of raising the alarm, we’re collectively walking up to the hangman’s noose and putting our heads in it.

We are a society. As such, our collective survival depends on being in relationship with each other. For the moment, our individual longevity is at risk. If we don’t pull it together, Armageddon becomes a real possibility

We all have to be engaged socially and politically active persons. This I do not dispute. But we can also hold the both/and; that we are also social animals who can choose to bridge difference and find common ground. Civility can creep back in.

Whether our baseline is social justice or Second Amendment rights, we must also be mindful of our larger relational responsibilities. We have a responsibility to be civil so our children can grow up in safe vibrant communities. We have a responsibility to knit together our social world, not shred it for clicks and likes.

This isn’t about being nice to nasty people. I’m not telling anyone to take trolling or abuse in order to make peace. What I am saying is we need to be intentionally filtering for connection, forming our own personal wealth of relationships, shown in innumerable studies to be the key to a long healthy fulfilling life. Relationships are our single most important resource in times of personal or national calamity. And relationships across political differences is the glue that will hold our society together.

Dr. Niobe Way, Professor of Applied Psychology at New York University has this to say about American culture:

Neuroscience and all sorts of evolutionary anthropology confirm that we are born naturally relational human beings. Charles Darwin even said the reason why we thrived as a species was because of our social nature.
Our problem is we live in a culture that defines not only manhood but also maturity in ways that actually disconnect us from our relationships.
Its actually a culture clashing with nature.

Our growing social isolation is at the heart of illness, addiction, abuse and violence in America. As Americans we have a choice. We can define each other based on the binary rantings of our cable TV realities or we can step up and show some real courage. We can stop falling prey to the ugly divisive coaxing from those powers who profit from our division and we can instead choose to connect. We can choose to be in communication about our differences instead of condemning each other.

For god’s sake, people, we can remember how it feels to enjoy being human.

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