A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more. –Jeremiah 31:15
I am writing this the day after a teenager walked into Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas and killed nineteen children and two teachers, and wounded 16 others. Before going to the school, he had also shot his grandmother. This was just 10 days after a young white racist killed 10 people and wounded 3 at a supermarket in a Black neighborhood of Buffalo, New York. Nine days ago, another gunman killed 1 and wounded 5 people at a church in Laguna Woods, just down the freeway from here. In the past 10 days, there have been 17 mass shootings across the United States, resulting in the deaths of 44 people and leaving 89 wounded. This is just a small 10-day sample of the 213 mass shootings which have already occurred in 2022. By the time you read this, that number will be higher. I guarantee it, because there were a total of 693 mass shootings in 2021 and we’re already on pace to match or exceed that. You can see all the numbers at www.gunviolence.org.
There have been a total of 119 school shootings since 2018. There were 34 school shootings in 2021, and the shooting at Robb Elementary was the 27th so far this year.
There are 393 million guns in private hands in the United States, the equivalent of 120 guns for every 100 citizens. Fifty-three people a day on average are killed by firearms in the US. 79% of all homicides in our country are caused by guns.
According to Pew Research, 53% of the people in this country favor stricter gun laws, including universal background checks. NPR and Forbes place that number at 60%. Gallup breaks that down, finding that 91% of Democrats favor stricter gun control but only 24% of Republicans and 45% of independent voters. 77% are in favor of “red flag” laws that would remove firearms from the hands of persons in a mental health crisis, spousal abusers, and persons who threaten violence. All in all, the takeaway is that a clear majority want stricter gun laws. Two major gun control measures were passed by the House of Representatives last year: the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021 and the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021. Both bills are stalled in the Senate. Think about that for a moment. Fifty Senators are blocking legislation that the majority of the people in the country want to see passed.
All of that is just numbers. Those numbers describe a country that is addicted to personal weaponry far beyond all need or reason, a country where life is cheap. Those numbers tell a story of a country that is so sick in its soul that significant numbers of its people are so turned inward on their own fantasies or pain that they can’t see the other people around them as, well, people. Not even children.
Those numbers tell us a lot. But they don’t tell us anything about the pain of bereaved families. They don’t tell us anything about the heartbreak. They don’t tell us anything about the fear that scars the survivors of gun violence for life.
Nineteen kids in the 4th grade didn’t make it home from school yesterday. That breaks my heart. But my heartbreak is nothing compared to the devastation the families and friends of those 19 children are experiencing.
Nineteen 4th graders. That hits so close to home that I can’t stop the tears as I write it. Two of my three grandsons, the twins, are in 4th grade. Their mother, my daughter, Brooke, is a former School Psychologist. My son-in-law, P.A., is an elementary school principal. Here’s what my daughter wrote on Facebook earlier today:
“This morning I talked to the twins about the Texas school shooting before school. I remembered my school psych training, where we had to practice how to discuss this exact topic with different age groups. We were taught to emphasize how rare it is for this to happen.
But…I just couldn’t say those words without feeling like a complete liar. Instead, I reassured them that it is very unlikely that something like this would happen at their school and we discussed the safety measures in place.
And then I left them at school. And I couldn’t stop worrying.
What if someone starts shooting at recess? What if they’re in the bathroom? Where are the most likely entry points?
If they come through the office this might buy enough time for the children and teachers to get into their locked classrooms. But then, what will happen to the people in the front office, like P.A.?
What will happen to all my friends who are administrators, school psychs, counselors, speech pathologists, administrative assistants, parent volunteers? What will happen to the teachers? WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THE CHILDREN?
What if one fourth grader comes out of the school, but not two? What if three kids come home, buy my husband doesn’t?”
The trauma from these incidents isn’t limited to the victims and their immediate families. It spreads out in ripples and damages all of us. I am heartbroken. But I am also furious. I am furious with a culture that lionizes violence. I’m angry at a culture that makes life so cheap. I’m furious with a country that puts profit above health and safety. I am particularly angry at the politics that greases the wheels of all this. I’m incensed by 50 Senators holding the country hostage to this violence while their campaign chests are being stuffed by the gun lobby. And, quite frankly, I am also angry with all the people who wring their hands and say we’re helpless, that nothing can be done. I am furious with all those people who work to oppose common-sense legislation to curtail the damage done by an overbroad interpretation of the 2nd Amendment. The words “well-regulated” are in that amendment. Let’s start there.
We long ago crossed any imaginary threshold of an acceptable number of deaths. We are way past the threshold of patience. We have spent too much blood on the altar of alleged “rights” and not nearly enough sweat on the sacred ground of responsibility.
And yes, we need to pray. We need to hold the victims of our violent culture in our thoughts and prayers. We need to ask God for help. But we also need to ask God for the courage, the wisdom, the will, and the vision to be part of the solution as we try to find a way to disarm this country and to address the alienation and dysfunction that’s at the heart of these incidents.
Finally, I know that some people who read this will not like what I am saying here. I offer no apologies. My ordination vows obligate me to speak for justice and to stand with victims. But beyond that, I want to live in a country that loves its children more than it loves guns.
Pro Gloria Dei,