On Wednesday, a lone gunman opened fire on unsuspecting customers and employees at an upscale department store at Westroads Mall in Omaha, NE, in an apparently premeditated violent attack on human life. Nine people were killed, including the gunman, who took his own life.
Then today, in two separate incidents in Colorado, violence visited a Christian missionary training center and a church, leaving at least four people dead.
Both these incidents struck a chord with me. During college and seminary, I worked at department stores, in the customer service area, where the most significant bloodbath took place. I now serve on the ministry staff of a church and am reminded today that there really are no safe places to escape the dangers of an increasingly violent culture. Anyone can become a victim — anytime, anywhere.
There has been much speculation already this week about whether increased security at shopping malls would head off the violence. My personal belief is that increased security is not the answer. People who would commit these heinous acts will no doubt find a venue for their rage. Additional security measures would, in my opinion, only serve to further erode the freedoms we enjoy in America.
Another news story this week caught my attention, as media outlets reported on two Penn State students who attended a private Halloween party several weeks ago, dressed as the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting on April 16. These people may be just as emotionally disturbed as the gunman they seek to glorify.
While we must be vigilant in our daily activities, we must not allow fear to consume us. Violence is unfortunately a fact of our society. It can trigger anxiety, panic, and paranoia — particularly for those who have been traumatized by its effects.
If you need help coping with such issues, I encourage you to seek out a counselor who is trained in dealing with anxiety and critical incident stress management, including posttraumatic stress disorder.
Here are a few tips to help you deal effectively with fear and anxiety:
- Write out your feelings.
- Make a family safety plan to give you peace of mind in the event of a crisis situation. Designate a meeting place.
- Focus on positives. With so much violence and negativity in the news, keep a running list of blessings for which you are grateful.
- Take a course in personal safety.
- Teach your children about stranger danger.
- Minimize the amount of news that you and your family are exposed to. Don’t listen to newsradio when your kids are in the car.
- Be aware of your possible desensitivity to violent behavior.
Scary things will happen. That’s a fact. Have a plan to respond in a healthy way. Be pro-active rather than reactive.
Don’t let the violence paralyze you and rob you of your right to a joyful and productive life – at Christmastime or anytime.