It's like looking both ways before I cross the street

I want to leave, this feels like the kind of place where a shooting will happen

It's like looking both ways before I cross the street
Law enforcement respond to a crime scene where five people, including a 9-year-old child, were killed after a shooting inside a home in Cleveland, TX. Photo by Go Nakamura/Getty Images

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If you missed the last Hell World I highly recommended going back and reading it.

We've been talking a lot lately about a new offering on the already very lengthy menu of styles of shootings we have to suffer through in this country. Delivery drivers being shot at for pulling into the wrong driveway or people being shot for getting into the wrong car or for letting a basketball roll into a neighbor's yard. A boy being shot for ringing the wrong doorbell.

The latest shooting is the worst version of this yet. Five members of a family in Cleveland, Texas including a nine year old boy were shot in the head "execution style" on Friday night. The suspect – who is still at large – a man named Francisco Oropeza was reportedly angered when some of the family had asked him to stop shooting his gun off in his yard.

"Ramiro Guzman, who lived in the home, said their neighbor got mad when they asked him to shoot from some other part of his property, further from their home and frightened children. 'He said he was going to do what he wanted because it was his property,'" the Houston Chronicle reported.

When I first read a report on the shooting via ABC News I noticed that there were quite a few references to the victims being Honduran and Oropeza being Mexican. Maybe they're just trying to provide context I thought stupidly at first. But then: Oh. Okay. Of course. I see how this is going to go.

Enter this fucking piece of shit:

"Governor Greg Abbott today announced a $50,000 reward for a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) top 10 fugitive who is in the country illegally and killed five illegal immigrants in a shooting Friday night in Cleveland, Texas," the press release reads. (Not that it matters but it appears one of the victims is in fact a permanent resident.)

These are the people whose bodies he is desecrating with this dehumanizing language mind you:

The other three children present during the shooting survived and were taken to a hospital.
They were were covered with the blood of Diana Velazquez Alvarado and Julisa Molina Rivera, who were both shot while laying on top of the children to cover them, law enforcement officials said. They also used clothes to hide Garcia's second son, who is less than two months old, Garcia said.

Yes this family was massacred but keep in mind their paperwork wasn't in order. And isn't their presence here in the first place the real problem?

It's not often you're going to see me handing it to the cops but for his part at least San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers seems to have a functioning human soul.

“My heart is with this 8-year-old little boy,” he said. (It was later reported the boy was nine) “I don’t care if he was here legally, I don’t care if he was here illegally. He was in my county, five people died in my county, and that is where my heart is — in my county, protecting my people to the best of our ability.”

This piece in the Washington Post yesterday was good on the subject

The perception that life is getting more dangerous has spread on the right as GOP leaders and pundits repeatedly argued, without evidence, that immigrants and protesters are jeopardizing American peace. Conservative news channels have devoted more airtime to violence than their center- and left-leaning competitors: Over the past three years, for instance, Fox News anchors and guests spotlighted crime 79 percent more often than those on MSNBC and twice as much as voices on CNN


A Post analysis, meanwhile, found that states with stand-your-ground laws had a 55 percent higher homicide-by-firearm rate in the past two years than the states that didn’t have these laws, which remove the duty to retreat from an attacker before responding with potentially deadly force.

Sorry but that statement from Abbott is really getting to me. There are always going to be people who our worst leaders and their worst supporters think have it coming. Whose deaths do not technically count. But I guess I'm just still surprised at my ability to be surprised by hearing it said out loud.

Why am I not desensitized to all of this yet?

Why am I incapable at long last of feeling numb?

The victims were Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25; Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Julisa Molina Rivera, 31; Jonathan Casarez, 18; and Daniel Enrique Laso, 9.

"Rene Arevalo Sr., who lives a few houses down, said he heard gunshots around midnight but didn’t think anything of it," the AP reported.

“It’s a normal thing people do around here, especially on Fridays after work,” Arevalo said. “They get home and start drinking in their backyards and shooting out there.”
Capers said his deputies had been to Oropeza’s home at least once before and spoken with him about “shooting his gun in the yard.” It was not clear whether any action was taken at the time. At a news conference Saturday evening, the sheriff said firing a gun on your own property can be illegal, but he did not say whether Oropeza had previously broken the law.

I wrote this the other day in here:

Do you think about this shit constantly? Perhaps not but do you not at least carry it around inside of you anyway? A seed of dormant foreboding waiting to bloom into its full fearful potential? Do you not wear it strapped to your back like a heavy satchel?
I tend to think about it more frequently in the aftermath of a notable mass shooting – feeling a bit more on edge in large public gatherings or in malls or other common staging grounds for mass murder – but those happen so frequently the reprieves in between don't last very long.
Perhaps it's not so bad for me because I live in Massachusetts which has the lowest rate of gun deaths per 100,000 people according to the CDC.

I don't think the fear is present for me consciously all the time. It's more like a nagging injury that recurs. Ah hell my knee is acting up today. That kind of thing. I do find myself clocking the emergency exits when I'm in an unfamiliar place from time to time. Occasionally an entire shooting will play out in my imagination and I have to sit there watching it in my brain then go well okay back to normal life. Hope that doesn't happen.

I was curious how other people have been feeling of late about the grim spectre of sudden gun violence haunting us all. Whether or not anything has changed about how they carry themselves in the world over the past few years. I asked people to write in and explain. Here's what they said.

I'm a university professor, and when I teach I have my eyes on the doors constantly now. It started six or seven years ago. I actually had a course I taught moved last year because they put me in a room whose doors were behind the podium. I'm not a moron, I know if a guy comes in with a gun I'm done for. I'm too flabby and stupid to believe I'd stand a chance playing the hero. But you never, ever catch me facing away from the door of a classroom, not even in meetings or at lunch or whatever. For what it’s worth it's not intentional either. It's like looking both ways before I cross the street. It's just automatic

I want to be clear I don't do it because I think I'm going to tactical roll over there and karate chop the gun out of the guys hands. I'd probably just shit my pants and then die. But there was a shooting back then that really got to me and I don't even remember which one now.

I go to these Drive By Truckers shows in Athens, GA every year. I know 75% of the audience by face or by name because it’s always the same crew. It’s a very safe space. I still find myself reflexively searching for the exits every few minutes despite it being a safe space and despite looking forward to seeing my favorite band in their favorite venue every year. Sometimes I even think about what I would try to do versus what the situation would allow for me to do. I think of the Bataclan and play out all the scenarios. Sometimes I think I’ll be the one who gets shot and won’t come home to my daughters and wife. It’s a world class shitty situation.

Getting on stage [now] comes with a side of “I could get shot.” Fuck guns.

I have changed how I behave because of shootings. I have taken multiple courses in emergency first response. I carry a trauma kit in my backpack always with a second one in my car. I have taught dozens of people how to control life threatening bleeding through Stop the Bleed (a basic bleeding control first response class) as well. It's not always on my mind, but I'd like to think I'm a little more prepared than I used to be.

The tipping point for me was 2020 and the protests there. Not as directly related to the mass shooting threat, I was worried about cops or vigilantes injuring my friends. I teach a Stop the Bleed in about an hour, and trauma kits can be had for 60ish bucks most of the time (use Rescue Essentials or NA Rescue, never Amazon). If there is a class around you, take it. After you take it and get a trauma kit, practice, especially with tourniquets (get a separate trainer, your real one should not be used until an actual emergency) so that you have some familiarity with how you'd use your kit in a real emergency.

It's not the state of affairs that I'd like to live in. I especially think anyone with designs on being a hero who stops a mass shooting with their own firearm should get their head out of the clouds and do a training like this first because tending to casualties is much more likely than Rambo-ing the shooter.

I say this as a firearms owner who has trained substantially beyond what I perceive to be the average level of American civilian competency. The ethic of care for each other is going to save more lives. Shit, throw Narcan and some Band-Aids in your trauma kit too, then you can stop an OD or fix random booboos too.

I’m a land surveyor so it’s part of my job to walk onto private properties. The events of the past two months have me wondering if I should be wearing Kevlar in addition to hi-viz.

I have felt a morbid, grim energy in the air recently, now that politicians are comfortable admitting nothing is going to be done about any of this except maybe arming teachers and bulletproof backpacks. I live in a deeply-divided state (Wisconsin) loaded down with gun nuts where the animating principle on the right is "lol fuck you," and am from what once was a divided state that's descended into a broken down conservative fever dream (Ohio), and there are now a lot more places in both I simply will not go. I'm a dumb middle aged white guy, but if I find myself in a room full of guys that look like me I'm fucking outta there. You never know who you're around, who maybe shit's not working out for, and they'll do something about it to the first person that fucks with them.

I don't fuck with anybody anywhere anymore. I dipped out on a ton of old friendships. I mind my business and keep my mouth shut in public, and I stay away from anything remotely right wing. I used to stop at this Wendy's in central Indiana just about every time I drove from Milwaukee to Ohio, but one time we were in there and what looked like a sixteen year old had a revolver holstered on his hip and I haven't stopped there since, five years later. Even then I know that doesn't matter, I know it can happen anywhere, so I've spent the last couple years of therapy getting myself ready to go. I'm not an instigator and I'm not courting it, but I've made my peace with life. I have two young kids and our family has never been in better shape, but every day there's the thought in the back of my mind that today could be my turn, and if it is, there's nothing I can do about it.

It really does feel like we'll all get there eventually. I'm not sure who actually enjoys living like this but there's gotta be someone, right? Or we wouldn't? Long dark blues, man.

I'd like to think I have [changed my behavior], but with the last two confrontations I had, I immediately thought afterwards, "Well that was stupid. They could've been armed."

For me it actually started with the Colorado theater shooter back in 2012. James Holmes. I just had to look that up and I can't believe it's been over ten years. I don't know why that was the one, since mass shootings were already a big problem for many years by then. But it cut through the noise.

The change in behavior was small at first. I started thinking about public spaces differently. I started looking for exits and thinking about what I would do in an emergency.

Then I noticed I was becoming extremely rigid about stupid shit. Like I won't sit anywhere but the back row so I can see the whole theater in front of me. Before then I would go to live shows all the time. I wouldn't even care if I knew the band, I just love live music and I went to a show in Boston every week. That all stopped. Now there's only a handful of acts that can get me to take the risk.

That started after the marathon bombing. My wife at the time was down there and I couldn't get a hold of her for an hour after the bombs went off and I went into a panic death spiral. Turns out she was just on the subway and, I think, cellular networks were overloaded. For the most part, today, I try to avoid crowds at all costs.

Tying it into your post, the thing that scares me the most about the present is the combination of guns and dehumanizing rhetoric. I asked my aunt and uncle last night if the right was calling JFK a pedophile before they blew his brains out and they did not remember anything like that.

I'm Canadian and the last year or so a lot of us have factored this in when weighing whether to take film gigs that will find us in the States. One said we aren't sure how many times we will beat the odds. I found myself last year just scanning my surroundings the entire time.

Quite a few months ago, maybe a year ago, as I was coming home I noticed a big handwritten sign in our neighbor's yard. Someone had ripped down their pride flag and the sign basically said, "hey that's a shitty thing to do, please don't disrespect your neighbors." Of course my first thought was, "goddammit not here." So my partner suggested putting a pride flag up in solidarity. Sounds great, let's let these fuckers try to take OUR flag down. Neither me or my partner is queer and I hate performative ally-type stuff but I realized that in this case, it was exactly the right thing to do to show some support or at least say, "hey you're not alone in this neighborhood." Our flag never got fucked with, but then a few months ago, our friends who live in a different part of town had a neighbor whose flag got ripped down. They had video, reported it to the police, yadda yadda. Of course no one thinks anything is going to happen, it's just some fucking kids running around being dumb. Then this happens literally catty-corner to the first house where the flag got ripped down, three houses down from me:

They found this kid because of the surveillance video from the second house with the stolen flag. And all I've been able to think about is what if this kid just decided instead of making threats to go around to all the houses with pride flags and start shooting. Probably an irrational thought, but I haven't been able to get it out of my head. I realize that's how fear works, just plant the seed and let it grow, but it's fucking infuriating that I can't reason my way out of it. I lived in DC for 15 years, I'm used to being aware of my surroundings, and I'm a dude who falls loosely into the "I'm not gonna fuck with that guy category." In a way I felt safer knowing only criminals have guns because criminals with guns go and rob people and target other criminals with guns. Now we live in a place, worse in some ways than others, where any dipshit kid with dipshit parents can grab their divorced dad's semi-auto rifle and do whatever. I realize the chances of this happening directly to me is vanishingly tiny, but then I open Twitter on Sunday and there isn't a week where there aren't like 7 shootings at someones prom after-party or something. Just people trying to live their lives doing normal things. And I think that's where the smoldering paranoia comes from. Just the idea that everyone, everyday is just trying to walk around living their lives but there is an entire network of sociopaths who hate that for whatever reason.

Anyway, back to your original question: I haven't changed my behavior per se, but there is something different going on in my head that I can't quite put my finger on. Maybe it's just fear.

There is a sad kicker to this story, and it's just another anecdote about hate breeding hate. This article from 2 years ago is about the father of the kid who was arrested:

I struggle contextualizing this fear alongside other fears. I just don’t have the brain capacity to think through “stop eating so much sugar or you’ll die” vs “don’t pull into the wrong driveway or you’ll die.” I think my reaction has been to become catatonic or willfully ignorant.

The mental toll of COVID/lockdowns really can’t be understated (not saying I opposed them). The rate of mass shootings per year has been up since 2020—even for the already absurdly high standards of America. The gun control debate just feels pointless and exasperating to have because the other side is so dug in on this issue that they will accept weekly mass shootings and/or child slaughterings as a facet of American life. The right is convinced that drag shows and CRT are more psychologically damaging to children than the threat of being killed at their school.

With about 400 million firearms in circulation, I’m not even sure how gun control could be competently regulated short of mandated buybacks. We could address the root causes of violence, like access to mental health, providing educational and economic opportunity, rebuilding communities, and improving social services, but of course, all of this is socialism, and therefore bad. It’s all pretty bleak.

One of my previous jobs was in Killeen, TX which is adjacent to Ford Hood. It's a town with a strange vibe. Before Sandy Hook it was the location of the worst mass shooting in US history (Luby's 1991. The building was still there. Now just a Chinese buffet).

In class one day we were talking about a campus shooting that had happened earlier that day, I forget where. Right as we were about to move on to the topic of the day the quiet kid in class, the one who never said anything or wrote anything, carefully looked around himself. Methodically almost. Then he made for his bag. The guy sat next to him – an experienced active duty soldier who came off base for class every day – was glaring at him, waiting to see what happened. He reached in and pulled out a strange box with electric tape on it. Then he plugged it into his cellphone.

I often wonder at what point I might have pulled a gun on him (or worse) if I had been armed, as I was entitled to be in that situation. Or anyone else in the room, for that matter.

In 2019 my wife was driving our kids back from the airport. We had gone to Maine for vacation and I had stayed in the northeast for one extra day because I had a work thing. It was after midnight and a couple miles from our home (we were living just outside Austin, TX at the time) and someone fired a gun into the car, hit my wife in the leg, shattering her femur.

She called me, waking me, and told me she had just been shot and I was obviously unable to even process what was going on. I went into the office in the morning to tell them what had happened and went right to the airport. I got to the hospital after her surgery. She had a metal rod installed.

There's a ton to talk about here, but in the interests of making it short, even three years later, we'll be somewhere, and she'll say something like "I want to leave, this feels like the kind of place where a shooting will happen." And I want to try and talk her away from that because obviously these things are still very rare in the grand scheme of things, but how can I say that to someone who already has been a victim of a random act of gun violence? It's only unlikely until it happens to you.

It's trite but this really did completely upend our lives.

Right after she was shot the El Paso shooting happened though and I think that really hurt her mental recovery since it was so close to us. Then once she was on her feet again she wanted to go do something enjoyable so we booked an overnight trip to Houston, and while we were driving there was another spree shooting in Texas, literally a guy who just started driving around and shooting people.

We moved out of Texas last year, and while there were lots of reasons, the constant reminder of this event was a huge one.

One thing we always talk about too is how this is how our lives are going – and she had pretty much the best possible outcome after being shot. She's healthy and mobile, and even then all the emotional baggage can be overwhelming. When we think about people who have been through these events and have deaths and worse injuries it's hard because we know how close we were to something like that. My kids were in the car.

Every time I go to a Disney property I think “Is this the day the DeSantis-fueled nutjobs bring AR-15s over the berm?”

I grew up in a rural part of eastern Indiana. I’d say just under half the schoolmates in my class of just over 100 were at least kind of toxic and more than a few had anger management issues, though I doubt there was a name for that then.

We had a fairly standard-issue rock band, playing 80s rock while it was still on the radio, and one day we were practicing in the vacant house of the guitarist’s recently deceased grandmother. We didn’t even have a PA, just a couple budget amps and an ancient Rogers drum kit.

Across the street was a white mobile home, and in it, Duane, whom everyone called Duke for no reason. He was in my class, but he was big, a hulking guy who already had to shave his whole face, not just his lips. And just a wound-up ball of constant pissed-offness. As you might guess, the seeping of about 10 dbs of kick drum into the garden gnome serenity of his front yard made him take matters into his own hands. He walked into the front door of the house without knocking and kicked a hole in Randy’s amp, yelling expletives with veins in his neck throbbing. Then he turned and walked out, having solved his problem in the moment without one thought of consequences. Both because there would be no consequences, and he did not have the creativity to imagine any.

So. The only thing that died that day was a fairly new Univox amp.

But I think about him almost every time there’s a shooting. In 1980 you would have had to drive some miles to get to a gun store, and that would be for a .22 or a shotgun. Handguns were pretty rare really, except a rusting M1911 like my grandfather kept after the war. Guns were certainly around (I was a pretty good shot with my grandfather’s .22s) but they were for hunting. Functionally and culturally. Everything that decorated the rooms they were kept in was about hunting. The felt hats and the Jon-e warmers and the plaid hunting coats and the ducks and the bucks. And the desks with drawers for shot, gun oil, and the two kinds of powder and boxes of bullets.

Nothing about what we thought about guns was about conflict resolution, or home defense, or using them like going to a batting cage.

Today I live about as far away from that town as I can, in one of the bluest wealthy enclaves in California. Where if you hear gunfire, it’s almost certainly a location shoot for a prestige cable series.

In the interim, the NRA went from a gun safety org to a fear-farming factory. And guys, millions of them, exactly like Duane, now have the on-demand option to resolve every perceived slight or personal injustice with what is functionally identical to a modern anti-personnel weapon. My grandfathers fought WWII with less firepower. Available on credit at the hardware store on the edge of town, next to the all-things-deep-fried-diner that’s still decorated with Trump flags where there used to be a pretty nice special occasion restaurant.

Starting with the hate radio that led to Trump and DeSantis, OAN and Newsmax, Clint Eastwood talking to a chair, and hundreds of Jim Banks clones as backbenchers in Congress, the goal has been to create perceived injustices and manufactured threats. And I see the veins on Duane’s neck.

They farm outrage and create targets, big juicy ones, like outdoor concerts. Events or gatherings or dance clubs that must be cleansed. Or bank lobbies, or the post office, or food courts. Or theme parks. And I see the veins on Duane’s neck.

And so while I’m at Disneyland or DCA, or any other number of happiest places, I look for escape routes and secure areas. Check how many modes of communication I have on my person.

Or, out of nowhere, I fantasize about tackling the shooter from behind and beating his fat-dumb outraged-farmed Tucker-Carlson-fed-face into the pavement, causing the veins in my neck to, for a moment, look an awful lot like Duane’s.

A few years ago I was asked to go to my high school reunion. I truthfully said I would be in France when that happened, but politely asked how the people I could remember were doing. As is the case with small town high school texting, first thing you get is a list of who all had died and when. A lot of cancer. (Verna!? Not Verna!) A couple suicides, car-wrecks when the corn gets too tall to see around the intersection (happens a lot). And Duane had died. I don’t know of what, but I did look up his obit. Just a normal guy. He liked car racing. Found someone to marry. Worked in a warehouse. And for a company that made pallets and crates. People still called him Duke, apparently.

He did not die in a gunfight after a police response to shooting up a band practice he was violently annoyed by.