The Wrong Way to React to a Mass Shooting

by HALEY BURNSIDE, Asst. Editor

This past Wednesday, I opened Twitter hoping to scroll through some sweet Valentine’s Day messages and Ash Wednesday posts. As I clicked over to the news tab, I read two words that instantly sank like a rock in my stomach. They are words that we have all become painfully familiar with in the past decade.

“Mass shooting” is a phrase that stops my world for a second. After seeing these words I always become intensely aware of my surroundings because I know that this will be the moment I refer to as “the place I was when I heard about….”

As I scroll through the preliminary and heartbreaking details, I sink into that mindset that always follows this type of news. I thank God that this did not happen at the high school that my younger sisters attend. Then I instantly feel guilty for thinking this way, because surely an older sister somewhere just lost her little sister. I try to imagine how she must feel. I am overwhelmed by the horror, sadness and anger.

I try to gather as much information as possible by obsessively clicking through news articles and firsthand accounts. It becomes immensely important to pour over all of the details, no matter how gruesome. I feel an obligation to be informed rather than just turn my phone off and ignore the news, living in a tempting blissful ignorance.

Following hours of research, I find myself feeling hopeless and heartbroken. I usually feel like this for several days after each incident. I cannot shake feelings of despair, fear, anger, sadness and disgust.

I used to become angry with people for politicizing these shootings. It disgusted me to see angry tweets at congressmen and legislators blaming them for the carnage. It also bothered me to see the hashtags urging thoughts and prayers. Because of my cynical mindset, I thought those sentiments were at best useless and at worst offensive. I also criticized those who did not take to social media to express condolences for the victims, yet it seemed strange to see people boasting about all the money they gave to a GoFundMe page for the victims. I was always upset and critical of other people’s reactions. I felt like everyone was mourning the wrong way because I had no idea what I was supposed to do in reaction to another mass shooting. I felt this way as I scrolled through the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub, San Bernardino, the Charleston church, Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas, and now the Parkland shooting.

My opinion has changed. With social media, we are able to see every horrific detail of these recurring tragedies. We were not meant to comprehend suffering on this scale, and if avoiding the news helps you cope with this epidemic of violence, you should do that. If prayers bring you comfort in times like these, you should pray. If reading about young lives lost enrages you into writing a letter to your state representatives asking for action, you should write. If your tears move you to donate your paycheck to a fund for the victims’ families, you should do that. I, myself, find that writing helps me stay sane, so I have drafted ten different versions of this piece to help me organize my thoughts. There is no “right way” to respond to these horrors. Instead of cynically criticizing everyone’s different reactions, we should be united in condemning the violence itself and spreading positivity amidst these dark times.

Find your way to cope with tragedy, and show love to those around you. Reflect, respond, and help others heal however you can. Turn your feelings into actions and create the changes you want to see. These are the best ways we can react to this sadness.