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Terry Prone: As gun terror grows, we must see what's staring us in the face

Let's be honest, here. We've got use to gangland killings. We switch on the radio in the car. Get the AA stuff about congestion on a particular road. Get the weather forecast. Get the news about the economy. And in there somewhere is the latest gangland killing. Par for the course.

And let's be honest, too, about our reactions.

You'll hear civilised, respectable, decent folk, these days, saying: "As long as they're killing each other, it's just one or two fewer to cope with."

As if gangland killing was a natural thinning-out process. We don't register their names or their stories. Another one bites the dust.

Continental

The location of the dust they bite occasionally bothers us.

If we live in Clontarf, the bus to work passes Fairview. Lovely park on one side filled with dog-walkers: capital city living at its best.

Lovely shops and pubs on the other side with chairs outside, so that in the evening, it looks like you're passing through a continental suburb.

Except that the latest shooting happened in Fairview. It's not the first in the area. But this time, people who had nothing to do with gangs were shot down, as well as, we presume, the intended victim. You begin to be glad you pass through the area in a bus.

And maybe you begin to wonder what it's like for people like you to suddenly hear gunfire. Would you drop to the ground and crawl under a cafe table or behind a wheelie bin? Or would you freeze in position until you felt the blow of the random bullet hitting you?

We're very good, as a species, at failing to even see what doesn't immediately affect us.

We literally block out stuff that doesn't fit within our normal lives. Two psychologists did an interesting experiment on this, not so long ago. They set up a group of people in white shirts and black shirts passing a ball to each other. The watchers were briefed very strictly. They were to count how often members of the white-shirted team passed the ball between each other. They concentrated on the task.

As the two teams threw the ball, a figure appeared from the right. A gorilla. Well, actually a human dressed up as a gorilla. The gorilla moved centre-stage. The gorilla faced the observers. The gorilla beat its fists on its chest. Then the gorilla moved off to the left.

And you know what?

Half the people watching didn't see the gorilla at all. They were so concentrated on the task that they erased the gorilla from their consciousness so totally that when they were later told about the gorilla, they accused the psychologists of lying to them. No gorilla. No possibility of a gorilla. So the psychologists showed them the video. Which showed one large, chest-thumping gorilla.

Dubliners who have not, yet, been directly affected by gangland shootings are in the same position.

The possibility gets erased from their consciousness, so they neither register the names of those killed or shot or the reality. Bits of information float, untethered, in their heads. One of them is in the Mater. The other is in Beaumont. One is critical but stable.

The most recent shooting, in Fairview, involved completely innocent individuals out for a drink on a warm summer evening. Gunned down, their lives endangered, subjected to terror and suffering and the prospect, if they survive, of being scarred for life.

Terror

That should make the gorilla visible. But it shouldn't make us blame the gardai or the Government.

It should make us blame any friends or acquaintances who ever buy drugs for smart social use. Because they're the ones who pay the gangs money -- indirectly -- that's spent on guns.

And which make the guns commonplace among criminals. And allows those criminals spread their terror and orchestrate the transformation of a beautiful city into the Chicago of the Twenties.


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