The Common Good

Gun Victims, Erased from Our Memory

It didn’t take long to erase the gun.

Photo courtesy of Charles Honey
The gun mural at Fountain Street Church, before erasure. Photo courtesy of Charles Honey

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Greg Bokor’s ArtPrize drawing of an assault rifle at Grand Rapids’ Fountain Street Church was rubbed out Sept. 21 after the public was invited to wield erasers imprinted with sorrow.

Normally festive art lovers obliterated the killing machine with erasers bearing the names of 83 massacred children and adults. They included Jesse Lewis, age 6, one of 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December; Veronica Moser-Sullivan, also 6, youngest of 12 people killed in the 2012 Aurora, Colo. movie-theater slaughter; and the 45 victims of the Columbine High School and Virginia Tech shootings.

Within hours, the public had rendered the AR-15 just a faintly visible image. It was a powerful symbol of what many of us would like to see happen to these weapons of death so easily available to mentally deranged people seeking sick revenge.

Tragically, in real life, it is the children and other victims who have been so easily erased from our consciousness.

The Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Conn. happened more than nine months ago. Since then, Congress has done exactly nothing to make it harder for disturbed individuals to get their hands on guns that should only be in the hands of trained police or the military. Even broadening background checks already required of licensed gun dealers couldn’t make it through legislators afraid of the National Rifle Association or those who read the Second Amendment as an 11th Commandment.

Meanwhile, a guy who hears voices talking to him from the microwave has no trouble buying a shotgun to pick off a dozen people at the Washington Navy Yard. Aaron Alexis reportedly says attacks by low-frequency magnetic waves drove him to it.

We have legislators going to the mat to thwart the imagined evil of Obamacare. But they won’t lift a finger to protect children and adults from real evil like this.

Back at Fountain Street, a Second Amendment disciple defaced the building in apparent protest of the church’s several ArtPrize exhibits related to gun violence. The anonymous scrawler wrote molon labe, Greek for “come and take,” a defiant catch-phrase of gun-rights activists.

The Rev. Fred Wooden welcomed the protest as part of a conversation Fountain Street hoped to generate, but lamented it was done anonymously. Exactly. If you have something to say, Mr. or Ms. Molon Labe, why not set up an easel and say it? Stand by your convictions instead of desecrating a church and skulking away.

But kudos to Fountain Street for mounting such provocative exhibits and taking the scrawled consequences. Along with Bokor’s drawing, the church features Ritsu Katsumata’s “A Shrine to Victims of Gun Violence,” a moving exhibit projecting ghostly images of mass shooting victims against the backdrop of a gun. And the church entrance is covered with robots and cut-out protestors in an anti-war statement created by Detroit artist Timothy Burke.

Conservatives long have considered Fountain Street a heretical bad boy since critics branded the late preacher Duncan Littlefair as Rev. “Littlefaith.” But thank heaven for Fountain Street’s willingness to take risks and be prophetic. Other congregations should be so bold as to speak out on gun violence, an issue that grows more urgent by the day.

Why is it our political leaders constantly search out Islamic terrorists yet do nothing to combat the random terrorists in our midst? Both result in mass killing of innocent people; only the motives are different.

The best impulses of major religions condemn this kind of hateful violence. Yet in America their arguments go nowhere, beaten back by gun lobbyists whose only answer is more guns. Apparently they think nothing else is needed in a country where mass killings are becoming commonplace and even schoolchildren aren’t safe.

If you visit Fountain Street today, you’ll see the faint outline of the assault rifle. Next to it is a plastic container full of erasers bearing the names of 83 dead children and adults, tucked away where no one has to think about them again.

Charles Honey is a freelance writer specializing in issues of faith, values and spirituality. He writes a weekly religion column for The Grand Rapids Press as well as stories for other publications.

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