The news had just broken: A mass shooting. Highland Park, a far-north suburb of Chicago. A Fourth of July parade. Multiple people dead, the shooter still at large.
We live in a different suburb about an hour from where the shooting happened. My first thought was: One of my son’s friends is about to pick him up and head to a mall.
I felt a flash of panic. Where exactly were they heading?
My son was coming out of his room when I told him there had just been a mass shooting and I needed to know which mall his friend was taking him to. His response, as he pulled his phone from his pocket: “Oh no. OK, I’ll find out.”
And that’s when it hit me: In America on Independence Day 2022, we are not living without mass shootings – we are living our lives around mass shootings.
This is the America we’ve given them
My son retreated into his room, called his friend and got an answer for me. I heard his voice through the door. Calm. Typical teen banter. He didn’t seem unconcerned about the tragedy, nor did he seem shocked.
This is the version of America we’ve given our children. Mass shootings – in schools, in theaters, at concerts or at a holiday parade in a wealthy, low-crime suburb – happen with almost rhythmic frequency.
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There’s rarely time to mourn one before the next arrives. To adults lucky enough to remember a time when a deadly mass shooting at a Fourth of July parade would be a cataclysmic event, it’s hard to realize that for our kids, such tragedies have assumed a horrifying commonness.
My son told me where they were going. It seemed far enough from Highland Park to be safe. I did the cold calculus, balanced the risk.
I let him go.
It’s bizarre, but it’s what we do here in the land of gun freedom. We live our lives around outbreaks of gun violence. I’m sure people throughout the greater Chicago area were doing what I did Monday, sure as people across the country, consciously or subconsciously, do all the time.
Gun violence has altered how we live
Police in Highland Park – which is about 30 miles north of Chicago – said a gunman fired a high-powered rifle from a rooftop near the city’s parade route, killing six and injuring more than 20 people. As of Monday afternoon, the shooter, described as a white male ages 18 to 20, was still at large and police had no motive.
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Lake County Deputy Chief Christopher Covelli told residents: “We’re asking everybody to stay indoors. Stay vigilant right now.”
When do we, as residents of a country addicted to guns and accepting of constant casualties, not have to be vigilant? Tell me the exact place one can go in this country and feel honestly, truly safe.
It’s not a house of worship. It’s not an office building. It’s certainly not a school, college campus or any kind of public event.
And now it’s not a Fourth of July parade.
We glance at where the movie theater emergency exits are. We take a quick look across the crowd for signs of anything suspicious. We pause to decide whether it’s safe for our kids to go somewhere.
This is the America we were ostensibly celebrating Monday.
A parade becomes a scene of terror
The massacre in Highland Park, like every mass shooting, will force us to make incremental changes to the way we live. Maybe when July 4 comes next year, we’ll avoid our local parade. Or if we do go, maybe we’ll scan the rooftops, remembering July 4, 2022, when the picturesque downtown street of a lovely Midwestern suburb became a scene of blood and death and abject terror.
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We’ll add this mass shooting to our overflowing memory banks and let it inform our daily decisions in a country where the gun fanaticism of the few dictates the lives of the many.
This is the America people in Highland Park showed up to celebrate.
This is the America that left at least six of them dead.
This is the America we give our children, one where we bend our lives around avoidable tragedies.
It makes me wonder how much bending has to happen before we break.
Follow USA TODAY columnist Rex Huppke on Twitter @RexHuppke and Facebook: facebook.com/RexIsAJerk