Are we becoming numb to violence?

Are we becoming numb to violence?
Five people were shot at a Hattiesburg restaurant in 2012, and Robert Hammond's life was forever changed. (Photo source: WDAM)
Five people were shot at a Hattiesburg restaurant in 2012, and Robert Hammond's life was forever changed. (Photo source: WDAM)

PINE BELT (WDAM) - The October 2017 Las Vegas shooting remains the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. 58 people were killed. Only a month later, another shooting, 26 killed by a gunman inside a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

The latest mass shooting happened on Valentine's Day when 17 people were killed in a school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Those shootings are just scratching the surface of the acts the FBI defines as mass shootings, four or more shot at once. So many of those shootings flood our minds and then seemingly fade from our memories, until the next one.

But what happens when these acts of violence seem to happen too often, and in our own communities like the mass shooting that injured six here at La Fiesta Brava, in Hattiesburg in January. Psychology Fellow at Southern Behavioral Medicine David Gavel considers the question: Are we becoming numb to violence?

"When we see violence take place, especially the kind of more graphic or horrific types of events that we see in mass casualty events, we have some sort of internal response," Gavel said. "That can include uncomfortable emotions, it can include biological responses. Things happen in our brain that cause what most of us would describe as anxiety, fear, discomfort, even empathy for those individuals."

Gavel explained the more we are exposed to mass shootings, to violence, we lose those responses and pay an intangible consequence.

"We don't get the same intensity of fear and anxiety and empathy for the victims, and as a result, it doesn't stick around in our memory as long," Gavel said.

Robert Hammond of Hattiesburg will never forget the day he became a victim of a mass shooting. He spoke to WDAM 7, for the first time, about the day a gunman could have taken his life, and nearly took his voice.

"I was afraid I might die, but I was not afraid of the shooter," Hammond said.

Hammond pulled out a newspaper. On the front page, a pivotal fragment captured of that day on April 2nd, 2012. It's a picture of Hammon on a stretcher holding his mouth, covered in blood. He said before that picture was taken after  he was sitting at the bar of Cusos restaurant in Hattiesburg. when he heard a noise behind him and turned around to a handgun pointed at his face.

"I just felt a loud pain in my mouth, and I reached up and felt the blood. Then I knew I had a problem," Hammond said.

Hammond said he went to the bathroom of the restaurant and saw he was shot in the mouth and losing a lot of blood. At the same time, he said he could hear the shooter, Scott Tyner, shooting four others. Tyner received 20 years for each of the five counts of aggravated assault, which means 100 years behind bars.

"I passed out from the lack of blood, but then later on the doctors put me in a chemically induced coma for two weeks," Hammond recalled.

Hammond said he woke up to a different life. He lost a portion of his tongue, went through 10 surgeries and had lots of speech therapy with more to come. He said the last five years have taken their toll and have put a hold on his life. He said even improving his ability to eat is on hold. He said he needs custom designed dentures, but he hasn't been able to get insurance to cover them.

Even though he is still struggling with the aftermath of the shooting, he took the time to offer what he thinks about recent headlines. Hammond said he thinks society is becoming numb to these mass shootings, but when he hears of the tragedies, he's disheartened.

"This has happened again. It's happened before. So why, what can we do to stop it?" Hammond asked.

WDAM 7 asked that question to Amy Hunter, Spokesperson with the National Rifle Association, who said the answer has nothing to do with guns.

"We need to work on improving our access to mental health care in this country," Hunter said. "We need to work on strengthening our communities. We need to work on educating officials, law enforcement and community leaders to recognizing the signs, the warning signs that something like this might happen."

Hunter said the NRA isn't turning a blind eye to tragedies in the headlines or turning a deaf ear to outcries and stories of survival.

"The NRA community is not numb to anything that happens," Hunter said. "This is a terrible thing that happens. It's absolutely shocking and devastating every single time."

When asked if the organization feels acts of violence, like school shootings, are becoming common in our country, Hunter said studies show it is not happening with more frequency.

She referenced a study out of Northeastern University that states school shootings are not more common.