Psychologist talks about fear in light of recent Walmart gun violence

WATCH: Psychologist talks about fear in light of recent Walmart gun violence

Following the Walmart shooting in Forrest City, Ark. Monday, FOX13 viewers have commented on our social media posts expressing fear of going inside Walmarts – some stating that they’re seeing a pattern of violence in Walmart stores. The FOX13 investigative team took a closer look at recent gun violence inside Walmarts across America. There have been dozens over the years, so the FOX13 investigative team focused on ones that happened during and after summer 2019.

A short timeline:

JULY 2019

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In Southaven, two Walmart employees were killed and another employee was charged with their murders. The suspect was shot twice by an officer.

AUGUST 2019

Days later, in El Paso, Texas, a mass shooting occurred inside a Walmart. The suspect killed 22 people and injured at least 22 others.

OCTOBER 2019

Months later, another Walmart shooting happened in Waycross, Georgia. A man opened fire inside of a Walmart and then turned the gun on himself.

JANUARY 2020

A suspect was arrested after shooting and killing someone in a New Orleans Walmart.

FEBRUARY 2020

Just last week, Memphis Police say James Earl Smith allegedly fired shots inside a Walmart Neighborhood Market, injuring one.

FEBRUARY 2020

Finally, Monday, two police officers were injured and the gunman was killed after gunshots rang out inside the Forrest City, Arkansas Walmart.

With all of the comments on social media about folks being in fear, FOX13 reached out to a University of Memphis professor. Dr. Meghan E. McDevitt-Murphy is the Director of Clinical Training in the Department of Psychology at the University of Memphis. She answered a few questions regarding fear and anxiety with shootings seemingly dominating the headlines over the last couple of years:

Q: Is it normal for folks to feel anxious about leaving the house with shootings seemingly dominating the headlines recently?

A: Yes, this is a normal response. These shootings can make anyone feel vulnerable; they can make us feel unsafe being out in public places.

It can be particularly worrisome when the types of places that have been the sites of mass shootings are common everyday locations. There have been a number of shootings at Wal-mart stores over the last year, including the one in August 2019 in El Paso where 22 innocent people were killed, and two in the mid-south in recent days. But Wal-Mart does not seem to be a particular target, as these incidents do not seem related. I think it speaks to the larger issue of being afraid to be in a public place where you cannot control what will happen. A recent survey by the American Psychological Association reported that 70% of teens and adults across the country are feeling very stressed by the level of gun violence in this country and that they worry about being a victim of a mass shooting.

Q: Is it reasonable for people to be especially nervous about going into a Walmart, seeing as we’ve had 2 Walmart incidents in the last week alone in the midsouth?

A: For people who have been victims of violence previously, or who have lost loved ones to gun violence, these mass shootings can result in even greater levels of fear because of the pain that they bring back.

I think there is an important lesson in this recent shooting. According to news reports, someone inside the Walmart in Forrest City called the police when they observed the individual inside the store making threats. Thankfully law enforcement was able to respond and likely prevented this from being a worse tragedy. I think this highlights the importance of being observant and remembering the advice of “if you see something, say something.”

Q: What advice do you have for people as far as balancing the necessity of living your life (we have to go into grocery stores, etc), and appropriately feeling fear?

A: Given the frequency of shootings in public places, it is natural for people to feel anxious about becoming a victim of gun violence. It can feel like an overwhelming situation. I would encourage people to think about what they can do to reduce gun violence in their communities. Taking action can help us feel a greater sense of control. So I would encourage people to get involved with gun violence prevention organizations and to contact their elected officials to communicate their concerns about the prevalence of gun violence.