Shooting in Highland Park shatters the image of suburban security

It happened again. This time it was about a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago. A young man with a high-powered rifle opened fire on the crowd; another seven people are dead and more than three dozen are injured.

Reading local coverage of the shooting, I was struck by the residents’ disbelief that something like this could happen in their community. “It’s just a terrible thing,” Don Johnson, 76, told The Chicago Sun-Times† “I never thought this would have happened in downtown Highland Park.”

More telling is this detail from the newspaper’s report: ‘Johnson said his daughter lives in Chicago with her son and that he has urged them to move to Highland Park. He recently told her, “It’s safe.” Now, he said, it is clear that ‘it can happen anywhere’.”

It was this weekend in a supposedly safe suburb that a mob of innocents was shot at.

There was a world of truth packed into those few sentences. Near Chicago, Conservatives favorite example of ‘black on black violence’ had been own wave of shootings during the weekend. All too often, the national conversation about gun violence centers on the shootings that disfigure urban communities. But it was this weekend in a supposedly safe suburb that a mob of innocents was shot at.

There are a number of reasons why major cities remain central to discussing shootings, some more valid than others, including race and class bias, the size and population density cities have, and journalists’ habit of ignoring what happens outside of major metropolises. But the focus on urban crime does the reporting of rural Americans’ experiences a disservice. Last month, The Wall Street Journal, citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported a: rise in rural homicide rate since 2020. The factors behind this increase are believed to be many and varied, and they don’t fit neatly into the usual categories that conservatives are responsible for urban crime, such as progressive prosecutors or gang violence.

The Associated Press also reported in 2018 that of the then ten deadliest school shootings, all but one took place in “small towns and suburbs” America. That year there were 24 school shootings, according to the Education Week† In 2022 there were already 27, the majority outside the urban centers.

Highland Park was the 309th mass shooting in the United States since the beginning of the year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. (As of Tuesday afternoon, nine more have been added to the dataset.) It was also the 15th Mass Murder of the Year the group followed. Most people would struggle to locate many of the cities on a map, places like Mountain View, Arkansas; Stanwood, Michigan; and Corsicana, Texas. The problem of gun violence clearly does not stop at the city limits.

I have previously written disdainfully about how calls to increase police funding are all too often a policy choice based on small but bad vibes about crime rates. I stand by my conclusion that “hardening” areas and hiring more police ignores prevention methods in favor of responding to violence. However, it’s hard to deny that people are scared right now. The feeling that nowhere is safe is penetrating and contagious† The time between mass shootings feels like it’s collapsing. There isn’t a corner of the country that feels untouched.

The time between mass shootings feels like it’s collapsing.

And there is little comfort in the fact that because the Highland Park suspect’s weapons were legally purchasedThe police were able to locate him quickly. There is also not much guarantee that the new gun law President Joe Biden signed a bill last month that would have done much to prevent this latest attack. The passage of that law has took the pressure off the Republicans to save lives for now. They may now insist that we wait and see how ineffective the Compromise Act is before rushing to take measures that would have kept a rifle out of the Highland Park suspect’s hands.

It’s a scary world out there. There’s no guarantee you won’t get a bullet while running an errand or celebrating the freedom you supposedly possess. And it’s one made all the more scary by the constant access to weapons. The ease with which Americans can still pick up guns means that next July 4th, many Americans will watch the cascade of fireworks, but their ears prick up at the sound of gunfire.

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