She Survived a Shooting. Now She's Disarming Her Christian Critics | Sojourners

She Survived a Shooting. Now She's Disarming Her Christian Critics

Photo via @taylorschumannwrites.

Most people, when they see a shooting in the news, send up a quick prayer and move on with their lives. Taylor Schumann did this too, until, at the age of 22, her life was upended by gun violence. The day before her bridal shower, she was working the front desk at her local community college when a young man came in with a gun and a plan to kill as many people as possible. He targeted Schumann, who was forced to flee to a closet, where she discovered her left hand had been mangled beyond recognition by bullets. The shooter continued to try and kill her through the door before being apprehended.

Schumann didn’t die that day, but, she’d learn, survival never really stops. She was forever changed both by the trauma of her experience and by the reality of living in a world where violence continues to be the norm. Schumann took on a new responsibility to help more people stay alive.

After her rescue, paramedics rushed Schumann to the hospital where she had multiple surgeries. She underwent extensive and painful physical therapy to try and regain any mobility in her left hand. Determined to try and regain a sense of normalcy, Schumann and her fiancé continued with the wedding, her hand in a sling, with scars on her chest from shrapnel. She spent her honeymoon on painkillers. Her body was permanently altered by the attack (even after all the surgeries and physical therapy, she only regained about 20 percent ability in her hand). Her thoughts on guns didn’t immediately change; slowly — as the PTSD and long-term effects of her injuries continued — Schumann began to question the narratives around guns she had grown up with her entire life. Now she’s asking others to join her in questioning the stories we’ve been told about gun violence in the United States.

In her new book, When Thoughts and Prayers Aren’t Enough, Schumann is seeking to put an intensely personal lens on the volatile subject of gun reform. She has written the book for a conservative Christian audience — her people — her family and her community members. It’s broken up into two sections: The first details her personal experience with gun violence in beautifully honest ways. It focuses on the long-term pain and ripple effects caused by the trauma of guns and our society.

The latter half of her book focuses on policy change. People from all political backgrounds will be surprised by the power we have right now to reduce gun violence. For example, gun-related suicide rates dropped in Indiana and Connecticut after they implemented red flag laws, which enable family members or police to remove guns from high-risk individuals.

“Obviously, it would be wonderful if we could end all gun violence immediately,” Schumann told me. “And I love the activists who are going for that. But we have a lot of guns in our country, and I just don’t see that happening. But we don’t want to become overwhelmed or pessimistic. When people tell me, ‘Well bad guys are just going to find guns and violence isn’t going to stop,’ I find it fascinating. We don’t approach any other public health crisis in that way. We don’t say, ‘Oh, well, some people won’t wear seatbelts, so we shouldn’t have seatbelt laws.’ No, we put those laws into practice because seatbelts will save lives.”

Through her writing and social media platforms, Schumann directly asks conservative Christians to consider some hard truths about their approach to guns in our society. The pushback has been intense. Recently, after writing a commentary on gun reform for Christianity Today, Schumann received multiple threats. Someone commented that they wish the person who had shot her had better aim. Despite all of this, she keeps going — and seeks to disarm her critics by being open and honest about her journey.

“People think I was shot one day and then the next day I decided to be a gun reform advocate and hate guns,” she said. “And this isn’t actually what happened because I was very scared to enter into the conversation. I had been fed so many lines growing up — that gun reform advocates were tools of the media and the liberal agenda, and I didn’t want to be a tool. I was really afraid, and my family was even more pro-gun after my attack.”

Schumann was disoriented and confused. This horrible thing had happened to her, and her community kept insisting that the best way to prevent it was to have more guns around.

But the shootings just kept happening. “Maybe,” she thought to herself, “my belief that guns aren’t the root of this problem isn’t true.”

In the aftermath of each new mass shooting, Schumann started noticing the silence of the Christians around her. She wondered, shouldn’t they be at the forefront of mourning needless deaths and advocating for a less violent society?

But to many Christians in the United States, the Second Amendment is a more sacred document than the New Testament, where Schumann saw Jesus model self-sacrificial radical nonviolence.

So where was the disconnect? Schumann, coming from a community where gun ownership was a right to be protected, understood what some of this rhetoric was rooted in: a noble desire to protect your loved ones. She saw this motivation in her own family, who wanted to shield her from further violence.

But at what point, Schumann wondered, do you admit that what you are doing isn’t working?

“Even asking the question can trigger people — similar to conversations around reforming the police,” she said. “People will say, ‘Well, we just need more guns. We need more armed school resource officers. We need more women to carry guns.’”

Civilian gun ownership is on the rise in the United States: In 2018 the U.S. accounted for 46 percent of all guns, with over 393 million in circulation. This amounts to 120.5 firearms for every 100 residents.

So, Schumann asks, how many guns will it take to be safe?

Their answer to mass shootings, domestic violence, and mental health related gun violence is always more, more, more. “And when they say that everyone who wants to carry a gun should — by that they mean white people,” she added.

How do we talk to each other about guns?

Schumann is worried about the future.

“In 2020, we had 40 million new guns sold alone,” she said. “And we are coming out of a season where people have experienced intense poverty and trauma and loss — people feel helpless and out of control. I feel like our society is being set up to see a lot of violence when you put these two factors together.”

Schumann believes both conservative and progressives need help to actually engage the issue.

“Progressives can kind of live in a la-la land where gun violence doesn’t happen, and if they are a good enough person and live in a certain place then they won’t be affected by it,” she said.

From Schumann’s perspective, progressives are actually not all that engaged with the reality of gun violence. Furthermore, Schumann struggles with how so many gun reform advocates refuse to even engage with gun rights activists. That’s where her work comes in.

“We both want to see less people die from gun violence — so how can we get there together?” she said. “I wish more people would do that. I wish progressives would allow those conversations to happen more.”

It’s exhausting work, but remembering her own evolution from gun rights champion to gun reform activist gives her hope for structural change.

“I changed my mind, and it wasn’t just because of what happened to me,” she said. “I can evolve, I know it’s possible. And I can see the potential for a group of people to change their minds and enact positive change. I want that so bad.” And despite fierce opposition, especially from Christians, she refuses to give up. “The truth is the pain is a part of what keeps us going when it gets hard.”

Schumann, like so many people from white evangelical backgrounds, grew up with the idea that individual liberty and rights are as essential to the Christian faith as the gospel.

“So many people tell me, ‘The right to bear arms is in the constitution!’ But, like, a lot of other things are in the constitution. Does being a Christ follower come before or after the constitution for you?”

Schumann believes that if you come from a conservative background, changing your opinions on anything is seen as a weakness. But she tries to gently encourage people that it’s the most normal and indeed faithful way to be a person in the world: to change your mind on topics after much prayer, consideration, and listening to those most impacted by the issues of the day. It’s a hallmark of growth, not weakness.

The title of her book comes from the common phrase politicians and Christians alike offer up when a tragedy happens — including the endless amount of mass shootings we experience in the United States: “My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.” But as violence continues to escalate, more and more people have been dissatisfied with such platitudes, and even view it as a form of spiritual bypassing: using religious language to not actually deal with the issue at hand.

I asked Schumann if she had other examples of phrases or saying Christians used to not actually engage with the issue of gun violence. “Oh yeah,” she told me, “I most commonly hear, ‘Well evil exists in the world and Satan is causing people to do bad things, and laws can’t stop evil.’ But I think it’s fascinating that we hyper-spiritualize this issue and not others. These same people seem very clear on what God wants them to do about abortion, but with gun violence we just have to pray about it,” she said. “So I think it’s important to have people consider if they have a consistent framework for how they go about confronting evil in the world.”

When Thoughts and Prayers Aren’t Enough is an urgent, thoughtful, and painful book. It hurts to see the realities of gun violence and the burdens of survivorship. Schumann’s book is also an important work of theology. As she told me, her experience and her new work on the forefront of this issue has taught her that “to be a Christian is really vulnerable. To be someone who wants to follow Jesus means that God wants us to break the cycles of violence. Jesus did that on the cross. Jesus wants me to do that. That’s scary! It’s really scary to be a Christian and I don’t think we talk about that enough.”

And yet Schumann, by looking at both the personal and systemic impacts of gun violence, does what seems impossible. She models for us the prophetic work of allowing suffering and statistics to change our hearts and minds toward real action.

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