Yesterday a gunman opened fire in Ottawa and killed a soldier at a war memorial. It is a stark reminder of the kind of world we live in every time a life is taken through violence. My prayers are with the victim and his family and for the authorities leading the investigation in trying to understand the shooter’s motives.
Like Ebola and ISIS, the shooting is spreading fear around the world. It is not unnatural to experience fear as a reaction to danger. However, reacting out of fear instead of wisdom is the mistake we must stop making.
What happened in Ottawa is also a reminder for me that while we can’t remove all violence, we can take steps as a country to reduce it. In 2011, the last year complete numbers are available, 31,897 died in America due to gun related deaths. In Canada, 2009 is the last year complete numbers are available, but the total number of gun related deaths for that year is 730. While gun violence can happen anywhere, as Ottawa shows, it happens much more in the United States than any other developed country.
Why the discrepancy? The full answer is complicated, but one of the driving factors is not. Gun manufacturers, led by their powerful NRA lobby, stand to lose significant amounts of money if our country institutes legislation that reduces gun violence.
A significant amount of firearm sales in this country are not currently subject to background checks. And current protections for gun sellers make it difficult for law enforcement to identify “straw purchasers” who can pass existing background checks but then sell guns illegally to those who can’t.
Closing these loopholes would make our country safer but also hurt gun manufacturers’ bottom lines. So even though 9 out of 10 Americans support universal background checks and 3 out of 4 NRA members agree, the gun lobby fights it anyway. And they are winning, as evidenced by gun violence being dropped from midterm election conversations. But because the gunrunners have bought the political process, it is up to us to keep gun violence at the top of our political and public agendas — for the sake of our society.
I’m asking for your help. Will you step up and help lead a conversation in your small group, church or community about gun violence?
If things are ever going to change in this country, we need to start by educating others and letting them know that a different world is possible. It’s not going to be easy and it won’t happen overnight but we can’t stand idly by as lives are lost needlessly every day.
If you aren’t sure you can make a difference, I understand. It’s a daunting task.
But before you give up, take a look at one of these videos. Hear the story of a parent losing their child and their plea for help.
It’s true, your contribution might be small. But know that it matters and it just might save a life.
Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The (Un)Common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided, the updated and revised paperback version of On God’s Side, is available now. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.