That Helpless, Hopeless Feeling

Horrific, sickening, tragic, are among the words I’ve heard used to describe the news from Las Vegas. But none of them really capture the reality that such acts are utterly beyond comprehension. As I write this, official sources are still looking for a motive, but no rational motive can possibly exist. Whatever made the killer take 58 lives made sense only in some delusional world most humans can’t come close to understanding.

After the words and the images sink in, it still doesn’t seem real. But we want to know why! Who or what can we blame? What can we do to prevent this sort of thing from ever happening again?

That’s when the hopelessness sets in. We want an easy answer, but there aren’t any. In fact, while it’s hard to admit, there probably aren’t any answers at all. It’s happened before and will happen again. Humans have done terrible and sickening and horrific things to others throughout recorded history.

This journey was partially described by statistician Leah Libresco in a Washington Post column. Previously, the gun control advocate had been involved with a project documenting the reality of gun deaths in the United States.

Her team found that 63% of gun deaths involved suicides. Most of these deaths involved older men. The biggest group of homicides involved young men, generally those who were involved with gang or criminal activity. On top of that, roughly 1,700 women were murdered, generally as a result of domestic abuse.

As she explored the data looking for answers, Libresco admitted “the policies I’d lobbied for crumbled when I examined the evidence.” The more complex reality showed that passing new laws might make some people feel good, but it would not reduce gun violence. In the end, Libresco “found the most hope in more narrowly tailored interventions.” These solutions focused on the underlying causes, rather than the guns.

Unfortunately, in the aftermath of an event like the Las Vegas shooting, few people engage in the sort of careful analysis that Libresco offered. Instead, most of us respond in a visceral way. We can’t make sense of what happened and we hate the fact that there’s nothing we can do to help. We want to get rid of that sickening feeling by believing that there is a silver lining to be found. Maybe, just maybe, we think, this is the time we will learn how to prevent this from ever happening again.

Like everyone else, I desperately want to find that silver lining. I never again want to wake up to hear of another Las Vegas. But, like Libresco, I know that there are no magical cures or silver linings. It breaks my heart to tell people that the data shows their pet solution won’t solve anything, but that is the reality we must face.

Posted in Scott's Columns

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