Terrorism: the purposeful violence against civilians, non-combatants, with the intent to create and foster social fear. One gun violence massacre after another has certainly created the fear that our families and children are not safe in their schools, our theatres, our concerts, and even in our churches. On Sunday in Sutherland Springs, Texas, 26 people were murdered while they were worshipping and praying. The victims spanned three generations, from an 18-month-old to a 72-year-old, a pregnant woman and her child, and more than a dozen children, including the 14-year-old daughter of the church’s pastor. Sunday morning indeed struck fear into hearts across America.
I believe these increasingly frequent mass shootings amount to terrorism of our entire populace by the gun industry itself and its principal ally, the National Rifle Association. Who benefits from these horrific orgies of violence and carnage like gunman Devin Kelly visited on the worshippers of First Baptist on Sunday? We see a clear pattern: Gun sales soar after every mass shooting. Why? The answer is the fear this terrorism creates. For some, it is fear of being the victim of a mass shooting like this one (despite that statistically you are more likely to be struck by lightning) and feeling that carrying a gun will give a sense of safety and control.
For others, mass shootings of this scale raise the possibility of new gun control legislation, and gun enthusiasts who fear this outcome stock up on guns and ammunition. Flooding our society with an endless supply of guns (there are more than 300 million guns in America, and the average gun-owning houshold has eight guns) and fighting any restrictions on their sale increases the chances that someone intent on violence for whatever reason can easily access vast amounts of weaponry designed to kill large numbers of people in a short amount of time.
The NRA is guilty of enabling the terrorism of gun violence massacres. The increasing sales of guns designed to kill many people perpetuates itself. The gun manufacturers farm out that violence to small numbers of disaffected, violent, sometimes mentally ill men (it is nearly always men), whose actions then set the stage for the gun business to boost their share prices. They then reap the benefits as tens of millions of well-meaning Americans react to these national tragedies by further arming themselves. In a year when gun sales had been in decline due to the perception that Donald Trump is a gun-friendly president who will keep any restrictions from being enacted, the slaughters in Las Vegas and Texas will perversely provide a boon to gun manufacturers and the NRA.
And there’s little doubt that this terror is working. Gun sales keep climbing, and these shootings keep happening. Two of the 5 deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history have happened in the last 35 days. Charleston told us, but Texas reinforces the notion that we can’t feel safe anywhere we go in this country. If our most sacred spaces, our churches, can be violated in this gruesome manner, it’s no surprise that schools, malls, concerts, and movie theaters don’t feel safe either.
The Second Amendment to the Constitution provides Americans with the right to own guns, ostensibly to protect ourselves from a potentially tyrannous government. But it is absolutely ridiculous to extend that to any weapon that is available, any military weapon a government has. Should every American have the right to own a bazooka, a tank, a rocket launcher, a weaponized drone — how about a nuke?
The right to own guns is not absolute; and it clearly should not compromise public safety, which the lack of sensible gun regulations now does. We shouldn’t overlook the relationship between domestic violence and mass killers. Many mass killers of all religions and ideologies have a history of domestic violence. Per the latest reporting, the terrorist who killed 26 parishioners at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs on Sunday was no exception. Devin Patrick Kelley had been court-martialed and discharged from the Air Force in 2014 for assaulting his spouse and her child in 2012, actually cracking the infant’s skull. That conviction should have prevented him from legally buying guns, but the Air Force failed to report the incident to the FBI. In fact, according to The Trace, the military is reporting almost no domestic abusers to the FBI database.
What can we do? Of course investigating and correcting failures at all levels is a place to start. But we can do more. There are a number of policy proposals that are both supported by experts and popular with the public, such as universal background checks and barring sales to convicted stalkers. But fundamentally, semiautomatic weapons should not be in civilian hands; their only design is to kill people, and lots of them.
Australia came to this conclusion after a 35 people were killed in a mass shooting. Conservative Prime Minister John Howard and his party banned semiautomatic and automatic guns and implemented a buyback program, slashing the country’s arsenal by 20 percent and dramatically reducing gun deaths.
Theologically, the case is pretty clear for anything that reduces violence and saves innocent lives. The Old Testament doctrine of “an eye for an eye” was actually meant to limit violence only to that which is proportional. In the New Testament, Jesus takes it further, asking us to love our enemies and proclaiming that “blessed are the peacemakers.” At most, the New Testament defines a role for governments to use force internally to protect civilians, as in Romans 13 (aka the police with clear rules and limitations). I agree with Diana Butler Bass, who tweeted yesterday that “it is utter heresy to say that violence is redemptive” and that “Jesus is the Prince of Peace, not the Holy Gunslinger.”
When interviewed about the shooting, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — who was endorsed by the NRA — said, “at least we have the opportunity to have concealed carry,” adding that “there’s always the opportunity that gunman will be taken out.”
It’s a position pushed frequently by the NRA. It’s the perspective NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre promoted after the Newtown massacre, famously saying, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” suggesting that elementary school teachers should be armed. And now, pastors? Greeters? Sunday school teachers?
It’s time to call out the NRA for what it is: an enabler of terrorism, a beneficiary of gun violence massacres, a profiteer of human tragedy. The NRA uses their massive political power to put the weapons that kill the most people into the hands of people who want to kill innocents. It’s time to fight the power of the NRA. It’s time to boycott the NRA on moral and religious grounds.
Often, after a great tragedy, I look to the preachers to ground us with a prophetic word. The best sermon I’ve heard since the Texas church massacre came from Sen. Chris Murphy from Connecticut, whose life was changed after the massacre of children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in his state.
"The paralysis you feel right now – the impotent helplessness that washes over you as news of another mass slaughter scrolls across the television screen – isn’t real. It's a fiction created and methodically cultivated by the gun lobby, designed to assure that no laws are passed to make America safer, because those laws would cut into their profits
"My heart sunk to the pit of my stomach, once again, when I heard of today's shooting in Texas. My heart dropped further when I thought about the growing macabre club of families in Las Vegas and Orlando and Charleston and Newtown, who have to relive their own day of horror every time another mass killing occurs.
“None of this is inevitable. I know this because no other country endures this pace of mass carnage like America. It is uniquely and tragically American. As long as our nation chooses to flood the county with dangerous weapons and consciously let those weapons fall into the hands of dangerous people, these killings will not abate.
“As my colleagues go to sleep tonight, they need to think about whether the political support of the gun industry is worth the blood that flows endlessly onto the floors of American churches, elementary schools, movie theaters, and city streets. Ask yourself – how can you claim that you respect human life while choosing fealty to weapons-makers over support for measures favored by the vast majority of your constituents.”
Indeed, after our hearts break yet again, let us not move on to apathy or numbness or even just cynicism. Let us demand change — change that puts the lives of our children over the idolatry of guns.