For hints of the unsettled state of the nation after a weekend of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, look no farther than these moments of jitters:
An unspecified threat led Long Island University’s campuses to close on Thursday, Aug. 8, a day special to some deluded Nazis.
Workers evacuated USA Today’s Virginia headquarters on Wednesday thanks to unsubstantiated reports of a person with a weapon.
And on Tuesday in Times Square, a chaotic and crowded place where the contract of civilized life sometimes seems stretched to the point of snapping like an old rubber band, backfires from a motorcycle wreaked havoc. They had sounded like gunshots, a noise in the back of many American minds these days. Tourists scattered. Theater performances were interrupted as frightened people banged at doors to be let in.
Their fear was such that they wanted to put something physical between themselves and a public space.
This is no way to live.
In fact, it’s untenable. Few can continue to carry on regular life in constant dialogue with their own mortality. A bomb going off in a marketplace does not keep shoppers away forever — and Americans shaken by shootings in recent weeks should have renewed empathy for the resilience of those who suffer through deadly despicable violence abroad, from the bomb near a Cairo hospital days ago to a Taliban truck bomb outside Kabul.
There and here, as always has been true after such awful events, a period of nerves and caution will be followed by almost forgetting. Fearful Hispanic residents will try to shake off the prospect of being targeted by a hateful shooter. Moviegoers will stop making a mental note of emergency exits. Until the next shooting restarts the cycle.
It must be different this time.
Congress must pass bipartisan background-check legislation, already approved by the House, to close some loopholes in gun purchases. And federal lawmakers must find a way to ban civilian use of weapons of war. No legislation will be perfect on this front, but America banned assault weapons for a decade starting in 1994.
“Red flag” protections that can help keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people are good steps, but not sufficient. These are just beginnings.
The jitters of this week are understandable because the threats were believable. USA Today journalists likely recalled the Capital Gazette newspaper shooting deaths in Maryland in 2018. Those trying to flee Times Square remembered the public place turned killing field at a festival in Las Vegas. The nauseating list of schools and institutions that have suffered gunmen, from Virginia Tech to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was reason enough for LIU to take a cautious path.
The caution is normal: Better to be safe than sorry. But when these crises continue happening without action, we always seem to be more sorrowful than safe. — The editorial board