Another week. Another mass shooting of innocents in America.
This time, it was on the campus of Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The college didn’t allow guns on campus, but that didn’t matter to the shooter, who allegedly asked his victims what their religious affiliation was and if they said, “Christian,” he shot them in the head. Why he did this will likely always be a mystery, since the gunman took his own life amidst a hail of bullets from law enforcement.
And thus begins another round in the United States of hand-wringing and praying for the victims, shaking our heads at how someone could do this, getting angry at the availability of guns only to have the gun advocates get angry that it isn’t the fault of the guns; it’s the fault of the mentally ill. And now the new added wrinkle from fundamentalist Christians that believers in Christ are suffering persecution.
While Christians may have been the targets here, it seems that most of these acts of violence are just acts of violence with no particular group that is the target. And that is adding to the fear and frustration in the country. President Obama, in a 12+ minute address to the news media, captured much of my own level of anger at these seemingly endless repeats of horrible crimes. Despite what the National Rifle Association might say, guns are the problem. Specifically, the easy availability of guns, and the lack of stringent safeguards on who gets to actually purchase a firearm, is the problem.
I am of the extreme minority opinion that no one should own a gun, and I wish the government would confiscate them and melt them down and turn them into beautiful works of metallic art. That won’t happen, so I go to the next best thing and that is to tighten and toughen the laws on gun sales and prohibit the manufacture of exploding bullets and other paraphernalia that serves no practical purpose for hunting or sports shooting or whatever recreational activities people say they do when they want to buy a gun. If we would make it as onerous and difficult to get a gun as we make it in some places for a woman to have an abortion, we might actually cut down on the violence.
Cut down. Not eliminate.
To eliminate the shootings we have to address the problems that are causing people to pick up a gun and shoot other people. A lot of the people who do these crimes are reported to be “mentally ill.” Well, I know a lot of mentally ill people who don’t just go shooting other people. And those who have a propensity to commit such a crime must, in some cases, actually shoot someone before law enforcement will arrest them and they’re sent to jail where they may finally get the mental health care they need. Face it: anyone who shoots another person is per se mentally ill. What exact illness they have will vary. The gun fanatics are correct; mental illness is a problem and we must do more to address that in this country. Still mental illness with a gun in hand or in the teeth, is far more dangerous than the unarmed person with a mental disorder.
But even mental illness isn’t the only factor driving this bus. There is a sense of isolation and an inability to get along or garner attention that seems to be the spark that lights the fire of rage that empties bullets into innocent people. It’s as if we have lost the ability to relate to one another as human beings sharing this planet. Even as our technology helps to shrink the global village into the palm of our hands in the form of a smartphone, the gulf between people is widening and erecting more silos around us than ever.
The other day at the 12:10 Eucharist, I was struck listening to the readings, which were pretty depressing. The one that caught my attention was from Baruch:
And you shall say: The Lord our God is in the right, but there is open shame on us today, on the people of Judah, on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and on our kings, our rulers, our priests, our prophets, and our ancestors, because we have sinned before the Lord. We have disobeyed him, and have not heeded the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in the statutes of the Lord that he set before us.
I heard these words and contemplated what the essential question is placed before us constantly: will we choose life or will we choose death? How many more times must we bemoan and lament the deaths of innocents because we have lost the willingness to change and accepted their deaths as collateral damage in the effort to keep gun manufacturers and the NRA fat and happy in the name of the Second Amendment? Do we really prefer mass death over eternal life? I know I do not.
While the issues are deeper than just guns, the fact remains that we have suffered far too many mass killings to justify simply praying for victims. If we truly care about those victims, we will strive to change our laws so we won’t be continuing this cycle any longer.