Digby (and others) have being raising an important point: as horrific as the Boston marathon bombings were, gun-related violence exacts far more deaths than the bombing did, yet we aren’t horrified by most gun murders. Put another way, the phrase routine gun violence should be an oxymoron, yet it isn’t and we seem inured to that. Digby thinks this is because terrorism invokes fear of the ‘other.’ That may be, but I think there’s something else–the misperception that gun violence involves agency.
Most people think that bombings such as those that occurred in Boston are pretty much unavoidable. It’s a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky. In my case, I had planned on trying to sneak across the marathon about an hour later than the bombings as the runners usually thin out by then and you can often sprint across Boylston (because I don’t feel like walking the long way). In previous years, the easiest gap in the fence has been very close to Forum restaurant (though in years past, a different restaurant was there; the previous tenants were Vox Populi). If they had decided to murder people at 4pm instead of 2:50pm–but for the grace of the Intelligent Designer goes the Mad Biologist. A thunderbolt from a clear blue sky. Not much I can do to avoid danger unless I never go the grocery store again–and I think even the most rabid gun nut would agree (I hope).
But when shootings happen, mass or otherwise, people often think there’s something they could do. Run away, hide, fight back, persuade the shooter to stop firing, shoot back. Something. That’s the myth of the gun: many people believe they have some agency in that situation. At least in mass shootings, it seems luck is as important as in bombings–usually the shooter runs out of bullets, has a round jam, or for inexplicable reasons, goes somewhere else. If people realized–and if we let the CDC study this, we might be determine to what extent luck is involved in surviving gun violence–that there is a huge random component to surviving gun violence, then maybe we would find it equally terrifying.
Myths can be very deadly.