Guns, stress and politics: road rage shootings in the US on the rise

WASHINGTON: After a high-speed driver cut her abruptly on a California freeway in May, Joanna Cloonan made a rude gesture towards the car. A passenger grabbed a pistol and fired at his vehicle, killing his six-year-old son in the back seat.
A woman in Texas was shot in the back last week while protecting her seven-year-old daughter from being shot at their vehicle, and another Kentucky driver is recovering from gunshot wounds sustained after an argument involving a parking space.
Road rage incidents involving firearms have been responsible for record levels of injuries and deaths in the United States since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a recent report from Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization in nonprofit that campaigns against gun violence.
Data shows traffic skirmishes involving firearms have been on the rise since 2018, and the report states that “if current trends continue, 2021 is on track to be the deadliest year on record.”
The pandemic, which has brought many new sources of stress into people’s lives, has also seen a record increase in gun sales and shootings, Everytown said.
Ryan Martin, anger researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, told AFP that “the very existence of a deadly disease puts people on edge, when the frustrations they encounter would have been rather slight two years ago “.
In a country where the right to bear arms is fiercely defended, the ubiquity of guns amplifies the problem, according to Martin, a professor of psychology.
Guns are “a determining factor in so many ways because they give you a lethal mechanism to express that anger,” he said.
“The data also shows that having a gun in the car with you makes you more likely to get angry. This is called the gun effect.”
Individualistic American attitudes may also be partly to blame.
“The individualism that we see in the United States probably exacerbates a lot of anger reactions. There is a sense of entitlement that comes with the way Americans tend to think of freedom,” Martin said.
Martin and Pauline Wallin, an expert on emotion management, both suggest that deep political divisions also contribute to violence.
Wallin, a psychologist based in Pennsylvania, said that as Americans become more polarized, someone who cuts you off is more likely seen as “the enemy” than as a “disadvantage.”
“We are more inclined to blame others for what happened,” she said. “It’s someone else’s fault … it’s a matter of narcissism.”
Even pandemic safety measures like masks have become a political debate under former President Donald Trump, and divisive messages have not gone away with his administration, Wallin said.
“Frustration mismanagement” is involved in most road rage incidents, according to the psychologist.
“You have to breathe deeply. You have to calm down because you cannot think logically when you are very upset,” she said. “Ask yourself, will this matter tomorrow?” Within a week ? ”
Martin said drivers need to realize that engaging in aggressive and hostile ways “will never be a positive result.”

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