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, 32,163 died in America due to gun related deaths. In Canada that same year the number was 781. 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.
On June 10, Emilio Hoffman, a 14-year-old student at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Ore., was transformed, from a good-hearted kid with his life ahead of him to a statistic.
Now, he’s a red dot on a graph, one blip in an “American victims of gun violence” total that is already absurdly high, and will no doubt be higher the next time you check it.
Emilio’s crime? He went to school, on a day that another student decided — for reasons none of us can fathom — to bring an AR-15 rifle from home and start shooting people.
What happened to Emilio is not a tragedy. A tragedy is when something happens that no one could have helped: an accident, a natural disaster, a crime that could not have been foreseen or prevented.
An interfaith group representing 15 organizations spoke out against gun violence Thursday in the wake of last week’s deadly shooting spree in Santa Barbara.
Religious organizations have lobbied for stricter gun control in the wake of mass shootings, and this latest effort was no exception.
“We are here this morning to stand with the multitude of groups across the United States who are advocating for sensible, common sense laws to limit the effects of gun violence,” said Steve Wiebe, co-chair of the Abrahamic Faiths Peacemaking Initiative. “Our faith traditions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — spur us to peaceful solutions as we recognize the inherent worth of each individual life.”
Elliot Rodger killed six and injured 13 others in Santa Barbara on Friday before dying by an apparently self-inflicted gun wound. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office reported that deputies found three semi-automatic handguns in his car. All three were bought legally.
During the Crusades, conversion by the sword was a common practice. Today, it’s conversion by the bullet.
A growing trend in evangelism among some more conservative churches is to promise people a gun in exchange for attendance.
Some more prominent examples from the past few weeks: In Kentucky, several churches are hosting “Second Amendment Celebrations,” which feature a steak-and-potatoes dinner followed by a conversion sermon preached by a former pastor, outdoor TV host, and gun enthusiast. Attendees are promised the chance to win a firearm in exchange for showing up and staying to the end of the event. In New York, one church is planning to end its Sunday worship service with a raffle for a free AR-15 to honor “hunters and gun owners who have been so viciously attacked by the anti-Christian socialist media and antichristian socialist politicians the last few years.”
The organizers of these events claim they’re an effective way to bring people to Christ. By uniting gun culture with Christianity, they’re reaching out to an unchurched population to lead them to salvation.
A year ago this week, news headlines were filled with the story of Hadiya Pendleton. She was a 15-year-old band majorette from Chicago, who would march in the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Parade with her school. Just days after marching in the nation’s capital, Hadiya returned to Chicago’s south side where she was murdered by gunfire in Marsh Park after seeking shelter from a rainstorm. First Lady Michelle Obama attended the funeral, and Hadiya’s parents turned advocates and supporters of commonsense gun laws. The murder of Hadiya Pendleton became a painful representation of the nation’s broken gun laws and the effect that gun violence has had on the millennial generation.
Generation Progress and The Center for American Progress recently released a report: “Young Guns: How Gun Violence is Devastating the Millennial Generation.” According to the report, “American children and teenagers are 4 times more likely to die by gunfire than their counterparts in Canada, 7 times more likely than young people in Israel, and 65 times more likely to be killed with a gun than children and teenagers in the United Kingdom.” These statistics are startling and call for renewed attention to what this study has called a public health crisis.
Any right-thinking stranger on our shores must read our daily news and think our nation has gone mad. We have cultivated the ability to end lives quickly; and yet we are continually surprised when our fellow citizens use the tools we have devised for exactly the purpose for which we invented them. Come to think of it, I think we’ve gone mad, too.
But our madness is not one that can be cured by laws alone. Laws can help to restrain us, and can help by making it a little less easy for us to find ourselves armed for murder. But we need something more, something that churches are better equipped to offer than legislatures are.
What we need right now is a richer moral imagination. We need better stories to tell ourselves, stories about the kind of people we could be. We need, more than anything, to learn to help one another to do the hard work of choosing not to pull the trigger.
The reality is bleak: 33 Americans are killed and 260 wounded from gun violence daily. Yesterday, as the culmination of its No More Names bus tour, which reached 25 states in 100 days, Mayors Against Illegal Guns rallied at the Capitol to urge Congress to pass a bill enforcing mandatory background checks for potential gun owners.
Spearheaded in 2006 by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, MAIG began with 15 mayors, and has since grown to more than 1,000. The group’s goal is to make American communities safer by reducing the number of illegally obtained guns and by holding dealers accountable for potential gun-purchasers.
At the Hill gathering, representatives from myriad groups came together to advocate for stricter background checks and to push Congress out of their inaction. Tuesday, the Senate postponed a hearing on the legality of “Stand Your Ground” laws — on the heels of Monday’s Navy Yard gun violence.
Congressional representatives, mayors, police officers, military veterans, NRA members, women’s organizations, advocacy groups such as Mothers Demanding Action, faith community leaders (rabbis, priests, and pastors), university groups, children, gun violence survivors, and family members of those who have lost someone to gun violence were all in attendance at the No More Names rally. A broad coalition: racially, socioeconomically, and generationally diverse, as indiscriminant as the bullets that affect us all.
For the first time, the federal government has issued written guidelines for houses of worship that are confronted with a homicidal gunman.
Vice President Joe Biden released the new rules on Tuesday, six months after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 dead, including 20 children.
Beyond seeking shelter and waiting for police to arrive, as many Newtown victims did, the new rules also advise adults in congregations to fight back — as a last resort — in a bid to stop the shooter. The new federal doctrine is “run, hide or fight.”