Opinion: Jumping at Shadows in a Raleigh Mall

The Crabtree Valley Mall non-shooting Saturday shows us how jumpy we are—and why a 'gun-free zone' was the best place to be
Alexisrael via Wikimedia Commons

At 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, someone heard something that sounded like a gunshot, or gunshots, near the food court at Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh. Crowds ran for cover in stores and bolted for the exits. Raleigh police shut the mall down for more than five hours and blocked roadways around it. Wake County EMS dispatched 20 ambulances and nine support units. Twelve people were taken to hospitals, at least eight of them hurt in the rush. As shown in the video below from WRAL, a couple professed their love to each other and prepared for the possibility of a violent death.

On Sunday afternoon, Raleigh P.D. issued a remarkable news release.

“All known witnesses to yesterday’s occurrences have been interviewed and there remains no explanation for the loud noise that people reported,” it said. “After a review of evidence collected at the scene, there continues to be no indication that a gunshot was fired.”

Barring any surprises over the next day or two … it was nothing. We ought to be grateful for that, of course. But the Panic at Crabtree Valley Mall does force us to confront a couple of important realities, neither pleasant.

First, we surely didn’t need more evidence that Americans in 2016 are by and large a jumpy, balanced-on-a-knife’s-edge bunch, so unnerved by years of public violence and its exploitation that we’re jumping at shadows. (“Are we the next hashtag?,” wondered the manager of the Lady Foot Locker as the crowd ran past.) There’s plenty of scientific evidence that eyewitness testimony is nowhere near as reliable as we’d assumed, especially at times of stress—another reason to force yourself to understand that what you think you hear and see, and the way that makes you feel and act, might not be based on anything real.

Second, this does weigh in against a certain organization’s foundational assumption, doesn’t it? Crabtree does not allow firearms on its property, even concealed ones, which in the minds of firearms advocates everywhere renders the mall and its employees and shoppers sitting ducks for evildoers. “Gun-free zones,” the theory goes, just prevent law-abiding Americans from protecting themselves against material threats that naturally gravitate to such easy targets.

Yeah. Well. Imagine the scene yesterday: Panic pouring like floodwaters through the corridors, shoppers running, store employees ducking behind counters. Hundreds rushing for the nearest doors or walls or enclosed spaces, running for their lives, with enough fear behind them to injure at least eight people without even meaning to. Now imagine, say, two dozen of those panicked hundreds running and jostling in the crowd with their handguns drawn.

Categories: The Buzz