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Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Happiest Place on Earth can only remain so by bracing against the possibility of children being mowed down by assault weapons as they await a turn on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster.

Walt Disney World, along with other major theme parks, just caved to the threat of a mass shooting.

News broke Thursday that visitors were greeted with newly installed metal detectors or handheld wands at the entrance gates.

The theme parks have long patted bags, and security in the past has found visitors attempting to tote their guns along on their day of fun.

Clearly, this is a sign of our times. And it’s not a very uplifting one.

Some see this as preparedness in the face of our new normal, but it’s really an abdication. Disneyland is locking itself up against the possibility of mass shooting because Americans are starting to accept that nothing else can be done.

This is the normalizing of fear. And it happens because politicians are unwilling to do anything to actually make us safer in the form of expanded background checks or limits on gun ownership.

Indeed, legislators in many states have succeeded in liberalizing gun ownership, such as by allowing concealed carry without a permit or training, which ensures that more people are armed in public, which leads to the need for metal detectors.

Theme park officials were coy with media about whether the metal detectors at the entrances were permanent or simply a measure for the busier holiday season. However, it seems likely that, once installed, the metal detectors will remain a part of the highly monitored Disney experience.

How Disney apparently made the decision is interesting. The company had to weigh whether its visitors would be more inconvenienced and put off by guards at the gate or more relieved that they would stop potential assailants from bringing guns into the theme park. Disney officials made the call that passing through metal detectors would not only be tolerated but might even be welcomed by visitors. Early feedback seems to confirm their decision.

You can’t blame people for being scared. The sites of the most horrific gun attacks now form a grim shorthand: We speak of Columbine and Aurora and Virginia Tech, and now most recently San Bernardino. We continue to dicker about what qualifies as a mass shooting, but they are clearly in the news with regularity. There are so many that not all of them stick with us. Who remembers Red Lake (in Minnesota, nine killed) or Marysville (Washington, four dead)?

The third anniversary of the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., passed with little notice the same week Disney installed its new detectors. Sandy Hook — where 20 schoolchildren died — was the attack we all thought was so horrendous that it would spark movement for better forms of background checks for firearms purchases. Not so.

Instead, we’ve gone the other direction.

“It’s a sign of the times,” theme park analyst Dennis Speigel told the Tampa Bay Times. “Metal detectors are here to stay as part of society at schools, hospitals, theaters, at sporting events. You are going to see more and more of this type of security instituted because it’s one of the first things they can do.”

Note the last part of his statement. That’s key.

Bracing with higher security is what societies do in lieu of the more difficult measures.

Poll after poll shows that Americans support expanding background checks for all gun purchases, and that they want to keep guns from the hands of people who are dangerously mentally ill.

Why don’t we also expect our elected officials to do what they can to keep guns out of the hands of those who wish to cause harm?

Instead, we batten down the hatches, assume that everyone is carrying a gun, that a mass shooting can occur anywhere and it’s up to businesses to protect their customers.

At this rate, people won’t be able to enter a grocery, a school, a movie theater or anywhere in public without needing to pass through a metal detector.

It’s doubtful that this is really what Americans want.

(Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at msanchez@kcstar.com.)

(c) 2015, THE KANSAS CITY STAR. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC

Sleeping Beauty’s Castle is pictured during Disneyland’s Diamond Celebration in Anaheim, California May 23, 2015. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

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