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Unintended Damage: Reactions and Response


Mass violence creates dual layers of destruction. An immediate layer of destruction comes as the moment occurs: a mass shooting causes injuries and death at the scene of the act. This is the most powerful moment of drama, the moment when an actor’s plans are carried out. In a sense, this initial moment is when victims are created: plans become reality.

The initial moment is fast, but its reaction is the secondary layer of destruction and creates more long-term changes that will affect those beyond the initial scene of the crime. In our reaction we aim with the best intentions of prevention: we sense a vulnerability and do what we can to protect ourselves from a similar act. These reactions are crucial to protect ourselves but come with an adjustment to our society and often requires an elimination of personal freedom. If acts of violence depend on areas of vulnerability we must eliminate these vulnerabilities to be safe. Complete safety requires complete control…but is this what we want?

A weak, but accurate image is to imagine society as a cardboard box. As the animal in this sanctuary the vulnerabilities we need to breathe and see only serve us if they keep us safe. A delicate balance must be found. History helps us calibrate our society but emotion makes us prone to rapid change and we may find panic inspiring us to cover more holes and hide ourselves away. Moving to a system of protection may feel better but we risk losing the culture of ideas we need to stay alive. A healthy society can only exist if dangerous ideas and people can exist. Yes, it is a hazard and yes we will be hurt over and over, but our freedom is too important to trade away for notions of better safety. One wonders whether these moves to better safety are even affective: will not dangerous people find ways to hurt others if the inspired? How much can we do to protect ourselves from human enthusiasm.

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