Prayer in the fearful context of gun violence is mysterious to me. I’m still surprised the first thing through my mind, huddled in a classroom corner was this: Praise God from whom all blessings flow… the doxology. Without knowledge of who fired the shot that echoed through the hall, or if the footfalls beyond the door would bring security or more chaos, I had, amazingly, some peace from this liturgical breath prayer. I gripped my friends’ hands and asked God to intervene - to save the shooter who was a child lost and in danger.
That was five years ago, when a classmate came into my high school with multiple weapons, ultimately killing one student and then himself. Thoughts and prayers from that violent moment, and my community’s long healing process after, are keepsakes I reexamine when I hear news of more shootings, like the five in five days this January, one in which four young women were shot while at prayer vigil. Or the attacks on two Muslim communities in jumah prayer.
How can I carry peace and hope beyond understanding — whatever prompted me to sing and beg protection — into a reality where 58 percent of American adults report they or someone they care for has experienced gun violence? When the United States’ firearm suicide rate is eight times that of other high-income countries and homicides burden communities already facing social and structural disadvantages?
A recent Everytown Research For Gun Safety report, “A Nation of Survivors,” reminds us gun violence robs us of more than physical beings. We’ve already counted that cost and mourned the collective body toll. Less attention is paid to the lasting effects, often cyclical, gun violence incurs, for example the loss of housing and job security. Homicides in Washington, D.C., in a given year are associated with decreased retail and service establishments; in Minneapolis, each homicide led to 80 fewer jobs the following year. Studies cited in the report found the lifetime costs of providing care after a gunshot injury are more than twice the costs of the original acute care. Survivors suffer severe psychological consequences, especially those walking with bullets still in their bodies.
Nearly 1,000 people have been killed by police shootings each year for the past four years, reported the Washington Post.
We mourn the lasting effects of gun violence in holy spaces, homes, neighborhoods, and schools. Gun violence, beyond the pulled trigger, is a culture steeped in fear and not believing all humans bear the image of God. It’s a culture propped up by the war on drugs, poverty, lacking health care, and deprioritized multicultural education. It’s a culture that wreaks havoc from the first shot to the last breath of anyone holding trauma from the event.
Thoughts and prayers do no stop bullets. We know this obvious declaration from the expanding group of young people who demand their hurt be transformed into action.
This is a monumental act of courage, and can be traumatizing in itself. It can also be a form of building holy community while finding strength in each other’s voices.
I wonder: What is prayer’s role among the lasting impacts of gun violence’s physical, emotional, financial, and communal effects? How can the faith community step into these circumstances to offer sermons or resources — not just on gun violence, but its roots: racism, domestic violence, toxic masculinity, mental illness, and a religious faith in fearfully protecting oneself using firearms?
I’d like to believe that faith and prayer we put in action can minister to people feeling the long-term effects of gun violence, and soften the fear narrative that’s influenced causes on the streets and in policy.