A Nation of Hostages

Yet another mass shooting in yet another American town.

Abandoned lawn chairs and kids' bikes stand at the scene of a Fourth of July parade shooting.
The scene after the parade shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, on July 4 (Youngrae Kim / AFP; Getty)

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At the start of a different week, I might have written about many things, including politics. But not today. Instead, I am watching a group of my fellow citizens deal with a slaughter of defenseless people on a summer day at a parade.

First, here’s more from The Atlantic.

Losing Faith

We do not yet know why a shooter opened fire on a crowd in Illinois yesterday. Given what we know about the suspected killer, I think it is unlikely that the massacre in Highland Park was part of an organized terror plot, but rather yet another case of a young male loser attacking his own community. Nonetheless, the effect of these mass shootings is the same as terrorism: They rob us of a general sense of safety and turn us into a nation of hostages.

In the first few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, I traveled to London and New York. That’s when I realized that the terrorists had succeeded in making an ordinary citizen—me—think about terrorism constantly. I wondered, on my first trips back to those cities and during almost every visit to any metropolis for a few more years: Am I here on the wrong day? Is this the site of the next attack? The terrorists had, for a time, taken away my complacency and my ability to enjoy a simple stroll in a big city. Americans now have to feel this way all the time, in their own country, at almost any mass gathering, in even the quiet towns and suburbs that people once thought of as relatively immune to such terrifying events.

Such feelings are corrosive and depressing. They undermine our faith in our system of government. (This is often the goal of terrorist violence.) Worse, mass shootings undermine our faith in one another. And that loss of faith leads me to a thought I cannot escape: There is nothing we can do about such events. They will keep happening.

This is not because I am a pessimist. Despite my sometimes-grumpy views on any number of things, I think most people are good and that engaged citizens can find workable solutions to most things. But when it comes to this particular kind of violence—a lone shooter attacking a community with a powerful weapon—all of the foundations for another disaster are already in place. A bizarre gun culture created the demand for millions of guns; an extremist lobby has attacked almost every measure to place any restrictions on those guns. (And the Supreme Court seems determined to roll back any limits on the ability of states to control access to these weapons.)

Add to this the final and necessary element: a group of young males who are determined to take their frustrations or delusions or fantasies out on others. New state and national laws, such as the recent gun bill, will make it harder, perhaps, for future shooters to get the weapons they want. I support such laws, but I am not convinced they will matter much, at least not for some time.

So what can we do?

We can choose not to despair. We can, as an act of will, keep faith in our society and our institutions. Just as we do not give up on living when we are ill, we cannot give up on ourselves because of these monstrous acts. We can do this concretely by demanding more changes to our laws, but we can also exert social pressure on an irresponsible gun culture. After all, we managed as a nation to make smoking a legal but socially unacceptable habit in everything from movies to public spaces. Do we really think we can’t collectively start pushing back against gun culture the same way?

This sounds anodyne, almost ridiculous, on a day like this. The guns will not disappear and another such attack is a near certainty. But we can and must try to mitigate the danger—and the damage to our democracy—by refusing to surrender to the anguish, by insisting that our fellow citizens come to their senses, and by affirming our faith that a great democracy can heal itself from even the most grievous wounds.


Today’s News
  1. Norwegian oil and gas workers went on strike, shutting down three gas fields and causing a jump in Europe’s natural-gas prices.
  2. New federal estimates show that the Omicron subvariant BA.5 has become dominant among new coronavirus cases in the U.S., but reductions in public testing and state reporting make it difficult to see the full pandemic picture.
  3. Russia has turned its focus to the eastern Donetsk region in Ukraine, a sign that the country is preparing for its next major offensive.


Humans Being: All men should watch this one movie scene about abortion, Jordan Calhoun argues.

Peacefield: Tom Nichols offers a guide to the vintage TV shows that he stays up watching at night.

I Have Notes: Nicole Chung talks with a negotiation expert about how writers and creatives can better advocate for themselves.

Up for Debate: Should Americans have a right to absolute privacy and bodily autonomy? Conor Friedersdorf rounds up reader perspectives.

Evening Read
Photo illustration of stills from the movie "Top Gun" set inside a pair of aviator sunglasses.
(Getty; Everett Collection; The Atlantic)

Hell Yeah, Tom Cruise

By Caitlin Flanagan

Top Gun came out in the spring of 1986, a movie so big, so wall-to-wall, so resistance-is-futile that you just had to coexist with the damn thing until it finally went away. Now—like one of those flowers that comes into bloom only once every 40 years—it’s back.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic

Culture Break
A man sticking his head in a hole in the sand, but the sand is a book
(Adam Maida / The Atlantic; Getty)

Read. On Not Knowing is a collection of short, blazing essays by Emily Ogden.

Or try another recommendation from our list of books in which ignorance is the point.

Plus: The Atlantic’s design director reimagines the covers and titles of popular books for summer.

Watch. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, a comedy starring Emma Thompson and streaming on Hulu, positions sex as a path to freedom.

Listen. On the finale of our podcast How to Start Over, the hosts discuss simple steps to forgive ourselves for what we can’t change.

Play our daily crossword.


I am a fan of the jazz musician Pat Metheny, and I am also a movie buff who loves soundtracks. So I am recommending a 1985 movie that flopped when it came out but became a cult favorite in later years (and is now widely available to stream): Fandango. It’s a coming-of-age movie set in 1971, the first effort by the director Kevin Reynolds, and the first major movie starring Kevin Costner. Steven Spielberg produced it, but he reportedly didn’t much like the final product. You might not love it either, at least not in the first clunky half hour or so—but wait for the third act, and the tracks by Metheny and Lyle Mays. (They weren’t written for the movie, but they are reflective and moving, and they capture the film’s gentle melancholy at the end.) You’ll be glad you did.

— Tom

Correction: The July 1 edition of this newsletter misidentified Steve Hackett as a former member of the band Asia.

Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.