Drivers in and near Kansas City are jumpy these days.
Since early March, police agencies report, there have been as many as 20 apparently random shootings at cars on major streets and highways.
Three people have been injured, none killed. Many bullet holes have been discovered in cars. Police and highway patrol officers are now seen, often, sitting in their cars near freeway exits, watching.
Unfortunately, random shootings on highways may not be all that rare.
--In February this year, Michigan police reported what appeared to be a number of random pellet gun shootings at cars in Pontiac and Auburn Hills.
--Last year, there was a series of of random car shootings in Bridgewater Township, MI.
--In 2012, police arrested a man in a Detroit suburb whom they believed had committed at least two dozen random shootings at cars on or around the I96 freeway.
Note that those three reports were from just one state, Michigan. Who knows how many rashes of random shootings occur every year around the country?
This sort of news disturbs anyone who drives a car. We like to think of our cars as private havens. As long as we drive carefully and are alert for other drivers' errors, we figure, we are safe.
And, in fact, we are much, much, much more likely to be involved in rear-end accidents than to be shot in our cars. What seems to distress people most is the random nature of these events.
The truth is, cars are not private places. Anyone paying attention can see you as you drive down the street.
But if cars are not private, big highways offer some privacy or, perhaps more accurately, anonymity to people who want to do harm.
Perhaps the most disturbing such episodes in recent history were the Beltway Sniper shootings around Washington, D.C., in 2002. Two men killed 10 people, mostly at gas stations as they were filling their cars. Three others were injured.
|A Beltway Sniper shooting scene|
And several years earlier still, there were reports of random shootings of drivers on Southern California highways. At that time, the reports were seen to be unusual while, in fact, they may have been just the ordinary flow of events. In retrospect, it may be that the news reports inspired more reckless or disturbed men (let's face it; we've never heard of women committing such crimes) to act out in ways that might not have occurred to them otherwise.
Several years after those shootings, when I was living in Southern California, the matter became somewhat personal to me.
An 18-year-old boy who lived next door was shot in the head as he drove his car home; he had just dropped a friend home in a dicey neighborhood. The shooting was a random act. The boy died. For months afterward, it seemed as if unrelenting waves of sorrow were flowing out of his grieving parents' house. The killer was never identified or prosecuted.
I get it when people worry about about shooters on the streets, even when many more likely dangers lurk.
Tomorrow: Highways and Crime in America