Concert Shootings On The Rise: Should We Keep Rocking?

Geographic disparity. Artistic content variety. One unifying theme: public execution.

I’m in beautiful New Orleans, Louisiana this week, working an event for my day job. The weather is hot and humid. The streets are teeming with summer celebrators. This, I thought, is the change of scenery desperately needed for a mind already prone to darkness, gone full black in the aftermath of the Orlando shootings.

Late yesterday afternoon, I departed my hotel in search of the best local oyster deal available. Fortunately my room is around the corner from world-famous Bourbon Street, a carnival of open alcohol, seafood, BBQ and NOLA’s acclaimed live music scene. I realized quickly it was a mistake wearing flip slops for the sojourn. It had rained heavily earlier in the afternoon and I lost count of how many near-falls occurred as I slipped on cobblestones coated with rain, beer, trash (and possibly worse – when in NOLA!).

But as I walked past the doors of the city’s high-profile night and jazz clubs, I became aware of a fundamental personal shift. My ability to freely enjoy immediate public surroundings – or any other open space– has been compromised by a latent, if acute fear. Guns. The brilliant musicians playing their hearts out in New Orleans, often with windows thrown open, appeared to me last night as though a quaint throwback of revelry from another, safer era.

Last weekend, former contestant from “The Voice,” Christina Grimmie, was shot after signing autographs at an Orlando concert. The assailant (whom I will not name) was carrying two loaded handguns, two magazines, and a large hunting knife when he approached his victim. None of this should be a surprise in a nation where we now have more guns than people. Armed to the teeth at all times is the American way – sponsored by the NRA.

What’s shocking, however, is this report from BuzzFeed. It frames Orlando Police Chief John Mina and the venue as being guilty of lethal, inexcusable Pollyannaism. Per the article:

“Plaza Live did not employ armed security guards for Grimmie’s concert, nor were there any metal detectors inside.

‘This isn’t a crowd that you would suspect would be carrying guns into an event like this,’ Mina said.”

Come again?

This public security position is indefensible when concert venues have, in fact, been regular scenes of gruesome crimes. Tragically, this wasn’t even the only weekend incident in Orlando. In November, 89 died at Paris’ Bataclan Concert Hall, and just last month, one person was killed, and three injured before a T.I. show at New York’s Irving Plaza.

Geographic disparity. Artistic content variety. One unifying theme: public execution.

Nope, sorry Chief Mina, it’s disingenuous at the very best and dangerous at worst, to send citizens into concert venues without public protection. The sad truth of this conclusion was reaffirmed in the same city, the next day. The Pulse nightclub shooting is bigger than the nation’s horrifically lax gun laws because it includes strong hate crime ingredients (many of the 49 victims were minority members of the LGBTQ community) and possibly, a self-hating homosexual man. That’s a morass of pathology that experts and journalists will spend months untangling.

But there can be no discussion of mass murder without touching the nation’s foolhardy obsession with weapons of war. The Pulse assailant (and again I won’t print his name) was in possession of LEGALLY obtained assault weapons. Absurdly, they are easier to buy than birth control pills and many varieties of cold medicine. And we wonder how we keep finding ourselves here. There are those (with great strain, I’m trying to avoid name calling) that say “a madman will find a way to kill.” Perhaps. But with a knife, would this guy have been able to quickly execute and injure over a hundred people? Not a chance in hell.

This piece may sound like I’m advocating for a universal nightclub lockdown. I am. If the nation’s gun laws are unchangeable (and there’s no reason to think otherwise), then it is unfairly incumbent on us to do so. The fear I felt as I skirted past Bourbon Street jazz clubs last night was real and tragic. And where appeals to emotional humanity and morality have failed to stir the gun lobby and its Washington flunkies, perhaps we can send an economic message: “We won’t go where we can be shot. Fix this now.”

Leaders in the concert industry appear ready to make changes. Russ Simons, Managing Partner at facility management firm Venue Solutions Group was quoted by USA Today as saying:

“What both of these incidents illustrate is that no event is too small and that there are vulnerabilities, regardless of whether these (attacks) are terrorism, hate crimes or someone who is mentally disturbed…It’s a completely new day in terms of how we have to look at these things.”

I’ll disagree with Simmons on one point. Today is not a new day. It’s more of the disgusting same.

Becky Sarwate is the current President of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association, founded in 1885, as well as Recording Secretary for the National Federation of Press Women. She is a national award-winning journalist, blogger, newsletter editor and theater critic. Becky lives in Chicago with her partner Bob and their menagerie of pets. Keep up with her at
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