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Our View: ‘Lost sense of safety in numbers’

A reader recently reached out to say the freedom to own assault weapons and recent mass shootings have left him noting the exits while shopping at City Market. Point taken. Lately, we’re feeling more vulnerable and fearful than free in public places. We’ve lost that sense of safety in numbers.

With the most recent shooting on the Fourth of July, the irony is difficult to ignore. Robert E. Crimo III, 21, the man accused of shooting into a crowd of parade-watchers and killing seven in suburban Chicago, considered committing another shooting in Wisconsin afterward, police said Wednesday.

It seems easy enough for a shooter to pull off. If it’s worrisome to go grocery shopping, we’re second-guessing other opportunities to gather in public. And the argument that we need to be armed to take out the bad guys is a weak one. These shooters are cowards, firing on innocent, unsuspecting people who, if they are armed, don’t have much of a chance to return fire. Community members don’t have training to deal with this. We agree, though, that being aware of the closest exits is a good place to start.

We weigh perceived risks versus actual risks. But mass shootings creep closer to home. Like six degrees of separation, the concept that people are six or fewer social connections away from each other, chances are one person we know has real ties to residents near these shootings. Colorado ranks fifth in mass shootings in the United States, according to an analysis by The Denver Post and news partners in 2019. This was before the Boulder King Soopers shooting in 2021, where 10 shoppers were killed. Let’s not forget shootings at STEM School Highlands Ranch 2019; Planned Parenthood 2015; Aurora Theater 2012; New Life Church 2007; Columbine High School 1999; and Chuck E. Cheese 1993.

At schools, remember when fire drills enacted the greatest threat? Now, campuses across the country are training grounds for mass-shooting simulations, where first responders practice to be psychologically and logistically ready. High-schoolers sport fake wounds – chocolate syrup, red dye, corn syrup – moan, become hysterical and appear to be unconscious or even dead. No industry or national standards exist for the drills and goals differ. In reality, coordination among first-response teams could easily break down. So firefighter, law enforcement and medical teams are at the ready with trucks, squad cars and ambulances. The trainings are unsettling. And, now, routine.

But mass shootings don’t come with real warning. Every situation is different. Unknown factors mean there’s not one best practice, whether it’s hiding under a desk or climbing out a window or running.

Katherine Schweit, who created the FBI’s active shooter program after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, told National Public Radio the priority is to escape. “You just can’t be killed if you’re not there,” she said.

Kathy Morris, director of safety and security for Durango School District 9-R, said building resilience and coping skills is key to mitigating the fear of the unexpected. Morris said the district follows the Standard Response Protocol to be safe in a wide range of potential emergencies. For example, if a fire alarm goes off during a lockdown with no scheduled fire drill, students and staff members may “pause and assess the situation.”

She talks with students and staff members about what-if situations, such as a violent intruder or a disturbance close to campus. The intention is to not become victims. “Or so unprepared they can’t think,” she said.

Mass shootings are changing us as a nation. Even if we’re just grocery shopping, we’re considering whether we’re easy targets. This fear is crimping our freedom.