December 17, 2012 by John-Charles Duffy
I don’t know how to say this without sounding crassly cynical or insensitive. But I am genuinely confused as to why the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting has taken over the news as thoroughly as it has; why it has become such an intensive focus of collective national mourning; or why this event has managed to produce so much political energy oriented toward doing something to prevent such events from happening again.
I don’t recall there being quite this much media attention, national mourning, or political energy around the Aurora, Colorado, shooting in July, or the Oak Creek, Wisconsin, shooting in August. Here’s an example of the difference, as I’ve seen it: When the Aurora and Oak Creek shootings occurred, people at church prayed for the survivors and their loved ones–and it was somber. But this past Sunday, when they prayed for Newtown, people were close to weeping. Somehow, this shooting had impacted them more than the others.
Why is that?
The obvious answer is that this was a shooting of children. Which… I get. But then I think: So, was there this much media attention, and political commentary, and national mourning in response to the 2006 shooting at the Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania? That’s not my recollection, at least.
What I’m trying to say is: There’s something about the way that news media and broader American publics are responding to the Newtown shooting that is unexpected to me and that I therefore find odd and bothersome without knowing why.
I think this may be what bothers me: I worry that the Newtown shooting has galvanized people emotionally the way it has because it occurred in a community that the majority of Americans–white, middle-class–are able to readily identify with. This shooting occurred in a virtually all-white, New England town that, the way I’m seeing it portrayed in the media, is ready to be pasted on the front of a Christmas card. And because of that–I worry–the majority of Americans are able to imagine this shooting as something that could happen to them.
I’m not sure that a shooting in an Amish schoolhouse has the same effect. Majoritarian Americans recognize it as a horrific event, of course. But it’s a horrific event that happened to someone else. The same–I worry–is true for a shooting in a Sikh temple. Or at a midnight movie screening attended by hardcore Batman fans.
Which makes me wonder: Would a shooting in an elementary school in South Side Chicago, or East LA, have impacted the white middle-class American majority in quite the same way as the Newtown shooting?
I would like to think so. But I have my doubts. And that doubt makes it hard for me to not feel uncomfortable about what are, of course, very admirable expressions of national solidarity and calls for action to prevent future violence.