The global pandemic has resulted in many unfortunate consequences, but one that has particularly disturbed and outraged me is the recent rise in gun sales and the associated increased risks of domestic violence, unintentional shootings, and gun suicides.
According to experts, fear has been the biggest motivation behind this surge in gun sales. Fear breeds panic and that panic can lead people to irrationally justify actions that cause harm.
I know all too well how irrational fear can create irreparable harm.
Five years ago, my mother was taken from me during the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.
My mother’s shooter should have been stopped from buying a gun. He had a previous arrest, but his background check took longer than three days, so, due to a loophole that allows gun sales to proceed if a background check has not been completed within three business days, the sale was completed. Today, the loophole is known as the “Charleston Loophole.”
Every year, thousands of people who should be blocked from buying a gun are able to exploit this loophole. But now, with increased gun sales, closed government offices, and an overburdened background check system, there is a chance that the loophole will be deadlier than ever.
As a minister, I’ve been thinking a lot about the responsibility that we have as people of faith during this time.
In a time when so much sits in uncertainty, one thing remains clear: We have the power and responsibility to act. We can take actions that calm fear and protect our families from loss. We can prevent unintentional shootings and keep our loved ones safe by storing weapons properly.
We must also arm ourselves with the fruit of the spirit rather than give in to fear. We must carry hope rather than run to the gun dealer. Yes, we are living in scary times, but our faith in God will uphold us, and as it does, it will have a profound impact on the lives and souls of our neighbors.
But in addition to these important personal steps, we must remember that faith without works is dead.
We need to take one specific collective step and urge our leaders to close the dangerous loophole that enabled the shooter to carry out his horrific plan on that fateful June day in Charleston — especially as gun sales surge. We must continue to call and write our leaders in the House and Congress. We must make our voices heard through the election process. As Americans and as Christians, we have the right and responsibility to speak up and advocate for commonsense gun laws that close loopholes and protect the precious life of every single human being — all of whom are made in the image of God.
It’s on us to pressure our leaders to create positive change.
We must urge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has had South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn’s House-passed bill to address this loophole sitting on his desk for a year, to act. And, for the duration of the pandemic, we must urge governors to close this loophole at the state level to give law enforcement enough time to complete background checks. In doing so, we can save countless lives and prevent countless families from experiencing the suffering and heartache that I feel every day.
This is all a part of the healing.
For the last four years, those of us who lost family members that day have gathered with the greater community of Charleston to remember and celebrate our loved ones and to illuminate the senseless gun laws that created the conditions for the shooter to execute his horrific plan. This is usually the only time all nine families are together in the same space.
During our time together, we would have a community-wide worship service, a gospel music celebration, a luncheon, and much more.
This year we planned to commemorate the five-year mark of that day by gathering together once again, but COVID-19 will prevent us from doing so. As I grapple with this loss of grieving with my community, I know that I’m not the only one. The healing that comes from sharing and expressing grief in community has been taken from us and I’m left grieving all over again.
But I know we will get through this global pandemic and crisis together. God will touch all of us. We will continue to fight for the lives of potential victims. And we will honor my mother and the rest of the Emanuel 9 by doing our part to make sure that what happened five years ago never happens again.