Have Auto Deaths Inured Us To Gun Deaths?

Saturday, 14 Jun 2014, 8:56:00 AM

Steve Stajich

Steve Stajich, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Steve Stajich, Columnist

Who among us that drives on our freeways and streets has not experienced the following cycle of realization: There’s some kind of traffic jam. The fact that you’re at a standstill in the middle of the day brings you to the second thought: that there must have been an accident up ahead. And then that third thought: Somebody may have just been killed in their car… and I’m sitting here cursing out the traffic and the heat.

To judge the rightness of all things around you only by how they impact you personally might not reveal the most sensitive tendencies, but it is human. To err. To complain first, and then consider the potentially heartbreaking specifics later.

Sadly, Santa Monica’s own McClure Tunnel was the location of a horrific traffic accident last Friday that claimed the life of a two-year-old boy and seriously injured his 17-year-old brother. I was coming home from Pasadena and encountered the closed section of the 10 Freeway. I was able to ease off the 10 at Cloverfield and continue my journey home. Two-year-old Noah Looney was not that fortunate.

So we learn more, we read about traffic death… and we do, what, exactly? There are environmentalists who will argue that the historical national effort, decades ago, to provide all Americans with their own personal transportation on freeways and Interstates paid for with their tax dollars occurred because oil, auto and rubber tire companies wanted that change in our lifestyles.

Francis Ford Coppola’s film “Tucker” will connect you with the pressures that the title character confronted when he had the audacity to suggest that American cars could be safer and save lives if auto makers made safety glass and seat belts mandatory in designs. They did, albeit thousands of human lives later.

But here’s what still haunts us: We have come to accept the deaths involved with all of us driving our own cars as… well, you tell me. Acceptable? Unavoidable? Part of modern living? I ask because it is beginning to feel as though that’s what’s happening with our acquiescence to a level of gun violence deaths.

Those who write about such things are now asking why the murders in Sandy Hook weren’t enough to bring forward swift and dramatic action on gun access in America. Meanwhile, it gives me no pleasure whatsoever to point out that in just the last few weeks we’ve had five major gun events including this theater-of-crazy performance just a few days ago in Las Vegas. This tally, of “news worthy” gun events, does not include the ‘everyday’ gun violence on the streets of our cities.

So, why didn’t we act after Sandy Hook? I’m not going to drag out the usual suspects because I’m more interested in what’s going on with us collectively. Are we beginning to integrate these events as the price for something we all want, similar to having cars to drive at our convenience and accepting the death that goes with that?

Do we never take anything back, review our needs and make corrections? There’s a temptation to look at Prohibition in the 1920’s, but there were building blocks involved in making the Volstead Act a reality that simply may not apply to us anymore as a nation. Religious groups essentially saw liquor as sin. Groups defending American home life recognized that men worked hard for small pay then stopped off to get a buzz on before going home and taking out their frustrations – sometimes violently – on their families. And as always, there were politicians eager to ride a wave.

Again acknowledging that we’re not the people we were back in the 1920’s, I still find “Thou shalt not kill” prevalent in much of religion. I can’t think of a more destructive force to home life than the shooting and killing of family members. That angle of the relieving of “frustrations”? Check out the dark backgrounds of the Millers, the couple that shot up Las Vegas last week and killed three before taking their own miserable lives. Politicians riding a wave? Will candidates actually look to get votes by endorsing the madness of the NRA as the bodies pile up again this year?

But now, as I say, I think we’re different and we’re less inclined to move as a collective whole toward common goals that have at least a clearly perceivable if not proven good for all. Like those first stage feelings in a traffic jam, we are upset individually when our phones don’t do what they’re supposed to do or our cable bill goes up. Not so much, for example, about drinking water for our neighbors in areas where fracking poisons their water table. Well, I would like to attempt a simple conversion of those priorities: Right now, regarding gun violence… it is, in fact, all about you.

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