There’s a reason that Stephen Paddock massacred 58 people in Las Vegas. There’s also a reason that people driving cars have killed 49 people so far this year in Southern California. The reasons are the same.
In the first instance, Americans have decided that mass shootings are a reasonable and acceptable cost of being able to easily and legally obtain weapons of virtually any kind. In the second, Californians have decided that individual killings of cyclists are a reasonable and acceptable cost for being able to drive as fast as possible to get where they want to go.
The shootings appear gruesome but they are not. Bullets do not make nearly the mess of a car smashing into a cyclist. But shootings are better for news media because they correspond to TV, movie, and video images that we have internalized as “dramatic.” Shootings are also better entertainment because the good guys always get the bad guy with even more shooting, even when the bad guy shoots himself.
Shootings are also more entertaining because victims get prayed over, flags get lowered, and the human story behind each victim gets told in horrifying detail. Memorials spring up and the event is commemorated each year by survivors.
Not so with people who kill bicycle riders. As the rider’s family finds, there is rarely any criminal proceeding of any kind. The killer almost always walks free and goes back to his or her job. “Sorry I’m late for work. I killed a bicycle rider and had to talk to the cops.”
Dead bicycle riders don’t get their stories told much beyond their club or their family or the local paper. President Trump certainly doesn’t visit their next of kin to offer condolences and paper towels.
Despite the difference in treatment, the cause is the same. Both are acceptable and reasonable costs of the activity that society has chosen to permit. When I read about people who have been killed using guns, I have no expectation that guns will somehow be limited in any meaningful way. Americans like guns. Americans like killing people. Americans like the entertainment of mass shootings. In order to have those things, you have to allow mass murder. Freedom isn’t free, and in this case, neither is slavery. In the same way that Americans believe health care is a privilege and guns are a right, Americans believe that cars are a right and bicycling on roads is a privilege.
You cannot discuss or negotiate this latter point with drivers any more than you can negotiate the unlimited right to weaponry with those who choose to misunderstand the 2nd Amendment. Deaths and horrific injuries are not mishaps, tragedies, accidents, or collateral damage, they are a necessary product of a system that everyone embraces in more-or-less democratically enacted laws.
If it is your right to drive as fast as possible to get to a destination, then your exposure to civil and criminal penalties for killing people should be minimal. If it is your right to own any weapon you choose, then mass killings will happen. If you think that there should be fewer mass murders and it disturbs you greatly, or you think that bicycle riders shouldn’t be killed with impunity, then perhaps this is the wrong society for you.
As Senator Thune wisely said, and I believe it applies to bikes as well as Las Vegas concert goers, the only real protection in America today is simple, if hard to achieve: “Get small.”
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PS: Don’t forget the Wanky’s. As if you could. And I may have forgotten to mention that there is free food and beer for the first 350 guests, so get there early.