Mass Shootings Are Driving Up Fear Of Public Spaces, Gatherings

In light of the Highland Park, Illinois shooting, fear of public spaces and anxiety with large gatherings is higher in the U.S.
Posted at 8:54 PM, Jul 06, 2022

It was a typical Fourth of July for Adrienne Drell, gathering with her neighbors to attend the local holiday parade in Highland Park, Illinois.

"I was relaxed and thinking everything has been so tense lately," Drell said. "I was thinking how nice it was to celebrate our 246th birthday as a country — people on horses and some vets, and then the Highland Park High School marching band, dressed in blue and white. So the band goes by, and they're playing, I think, 'Stars and Stripes Forever,' and it is very nice."

It was a sense of community shared by a public experience in the Chicago suburb. Then, the shooting began.

"All of a sudden this man, this burly man, came up to me and he said, 'You got to get out of here,'" Drell said. "I said, 'What?' He lifts me up. He said, 'There is a shooter. Get out of here.'" 

Public events remain by and large safe in the U.S., but high-profile shootings — like the one in Highland Park; at a Buffalo, New York supermarket in May; and at a Las Vegas music festival in 2017 — are leading many to fear public spaces.

A survey of 2,000 Americans released last year found that a third of respondents reported increased anxiety when going to large events with lots of people, 62% mentally check where the exits are when going to a movie theater, and about half do the same while shopping at grocery stores. That's because 28% of respondents said they feel they’re likely to encounter an active shooter in their lifetime.

"You know, if there's a recent shooting, which there is almost every week now, it brings it more to people's consciousness," psychologist Joel Dvoskin said.

Dvoskin says fear and anxiety can be helpful because it's built in our system to protect us, but when you have high amounts of it consistently, there's a problem.

"Anxiety and fear are bad for us in terms of our blood pressure," Dvoskin said. "There are studies that show that high levels of anxiety affect the immune system. It can make us more vulnerable to disease, to coronary problems."

But once again, the country is reacting.

At a Christian music festival in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, organizers are not taking chances. They have additional security members at all gates, plus around-the-clock patrol and cement barriers.

"We have key spotters in key locations to oversee the grounds," said festival director John Dougherty. "The county has updated its security cameras so there's cameras on site."

As an expert in active shooter response, Mike Clumpner has seen more people reaching out for advice.

"People need to remember it's not run, then hide, then fight," Clumpner said. "It's run or hide or fight. It's whichever option is going to give you the best survivability during an attack." 

Dvoskin says this impacts the nation as a whole, when Americans fear coming together.

"People are just nervous, they're anxious, and it's not good for us," Dvoskin said. "It's not good for us physically. It's not good for us emotionally. It would be desirable to live in a safer place than America has become."