Is America Becoming Numb to Mass Shootings?
Monday's shooting in Fort Meyers did not receive the attention one might have expected for an attack in which over a dozen mostly young people at a supposedly safe event were injured.
Over the past seven days, America witnessed 11 mass shootings that left 11 dead and 55 wounded. These attacks bring the US mass shooting body count so far in 2016 to 245 dead and 834 injured.
Meanwhile, Europe suffered two mass shootings over the same period of time. Exactly a week ago, details were still emerging about 18-year-old David Ali Sonboly's still mysterious but apparently xenophobic attack in a Munich, Germany shopping mall, which ultimately left nine dead, not including the lone shooter who killed himself as well, and 27 injured. Then on Tuesday, a familial dispute over an apartment in Magas, Russia, left the local chief of police dead and four wounded, two of whom were also officers, in still unclear circumstance. These incidents bring the continent's body toll in such attacks so far this year to 37 dead and 125 injured.
In America, the defining shooting of the week hit just after midnight on Monday morning when at least one gunman opened fire on a teen-centric party at Club Blu in Fort Myers, Florida. The shooter(s) killed 14-year-old Sean Archilles and 18-year-old Stef'an Strawder and injured 17 others between the ages of 12 and 27. Police arrested three people of interest right after the attack, 19-year-olds Derrick Church and Demetrius O'Neal and 22-year-old Tajze Battle. But they were charged with resisting arrest, not with anything directly related to the shooting; as of publication it remains unclear whether they had anything to do with the attack itself.
The attack in Fort Myers drew a fair amount of international coverage toward the start of the week. But ultimately it did not receive as much attention as one might have expected for an attack in which over a dozen mostly young people at a supposedly safe event were injured. After all, while we can be shockingly blasé about many large scale shootings, as Jaclyn Schildkraut, an expert on media coverage of mass shootings at the State University of New York in Oswego, recently told VICE, Americans tend to consider children the ultimate "worthy victims." As such we're riveted by attacks involving predominately children, especially in public venues, like this.
Part of the seemingly mild reaction to Fort Myers may have stemmed from a continuing global focus on Sonboly's Munich massacre, which hit almost every hallmark laid out by Schildkraut for a headline-grabbing attack: The shooting unfolded in a public and unlikely location—a mall in a nation which has largely avoided major attacksfrom any party in recent years—and was perpetrated not by the Islamic State as many feared, but by a seemingly bigoted, troubled teen. His victims were moderately targeted, but predominately random, and mostly young as well. Chaotic, narrative defying, brutal to innocent youth, and massive by any standards, especially those of Germany, it was a fittingly archetypal media spectacle-ready rampage for a shooter who apparently made it his business to study and ape some of the worst mass shootings ever.
Meanwhile aside from the high number of children involved, Fort Myers in many ways fit established narratives of large scale US gun violence, conceivably making it less extraordinary from a media coverage perspective. For starters, it took place at a nightspot, an incredibly common site for such attacks. (There were three other mass shootings at bars or clubs this week alone: One on Saturday morning in North Charleston, South Carolina left four injured. One on Sunday morning in Hamilton, Ohio, left one dead and seven injured. And one on Thursday morning in Elmira, New York, left five injured.) And, given that we measure the importance of attacks in part by their numbers relative to other incidents, the fact that this nightclub shooting happened just over a month after Omar Mateen's massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, about three hours away—the largest mass shooting in modern American history—might have compressed the impact of its overall body count.
While the identity and motives of the shooter(s) still remain mysterious, witness reports and speculation by individuals associated with the club indicate that it may all have stemmed from a conflict between rappers. A local DJ said he had previously been warned about potential violence at the event, while the owner of the club (which had seen previous, if smaller-scale, attacks) noted that shootings are a regular occurrence in the area. Combined with the fact that many of those involved were from minority communities, whose lives recent events have repeatedly shown us are chronically devalued in American society, you can start to see why Fort Myers might read to many as a simultaneously large and tragic yet also routine shooting, easy for us to move past.
Yet while the Fort Myers shooting may not be the most exceptional attack of the week, and while it may play into mass shooting tropes, it still left two teens dead—and many more wounded. That is an unacceptable and unnecessary tragedy. So were the five injuries in a street shooting in Kankakee, Illinois, last Friday; the two deaths and two injuries at a home in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Saturday morning; the four deaths and one injured in Bastrop, Texas, and four more injured in Brooklyn, New York, in apartment shootings later that night; the four injuries in a shooting at a home in Panola, Alabama, Tuesday evening; or the two dead and two injured in Chicago, Illinois, and four more injured in Baltimore, Maryland, in street shootings Thursday morning.
All of these deaths and injuries take a lasting toll on real lives. They are also collectively part of an epidemic of mass shootings much larger than any individual tragedy, slowly grinding away at America. Whether or not they fit patterns of violence, or seem subdued relative to tragedies like those in Orlando or Munich, each of these incidents deserves its due consideration. And America's mass shooting problem in aggregate deserves our continued collective focus.