Gun Violence

Where is the Hope in Charleston?

Image via TFoxFoto/

Image via TFoxFoto/

Last night while attending Sojourners’ annual conference, The Summit, I heard from Senator Elizabeth Warren, Jim Wallis, C.T. Vivian, and so many other legends in their fields. Afterwards, I stood in a small circle with others, discussing faith, justice, and reconciliation. I was the lone white face in my group of five; the other four were African-American, faith- and thought-leaders all.

One person, the only man in the group, referenced white supremacy. My ears perked up and I wondered, “Is that really a large part of the issue anymore?” I waited for a break in conversation so I could ask, “Aren’t we dealing more with subtle, insidious, and implicit biases these days?”

I never got the chance to ask. This morning at 5:00 a.m. when I picked up my phone to hit snooze, I saw an NPR alert: nine dead. I knew without question that those nine were black. Turing on CNN confirmed it, and I cried. No one had yet said the gunman was a white supremacist, but what else could he be? Who other than someone who feels his life supreme could take the lives of nine others, cause such aching disbelief and sorrow to their friends and family, and bring such hot pain to those around the nation who, like me, woke to tears and rage and confusion and heartache?

Intimate Partner Violence and Guns: A Deadly Combination

Image via Burlingham/

Image via Burlingham/

From 2001 through 2012, 6,410 women were murdered in the United States by an intimate partner using a gun. That is more than the total number of U.S. troops killed in action during the entirety of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars combined.

Guns are used in fatal intimate partner violence more than any other weapon. Of all the women killed by intimate partners during 2001-2012, 55 percent were killed with guns.

All Eyes Are Upon Us

Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
                           —Marvin Gaye

then they stomped
          John Willet
as he lay on the sidewalk
hands cuffed behind his back
and shot
                      Michael Brown

who was on his way this fall to college

Stop and frisk
Stop and frisk

and used a chokehold to kill

                    Eric Garner

who sold cigarettes one-by-one
on the street in Staten Island
and punched again, again
in the face

                Marlene Pinnock

as she lay on the ground
then they stood around while
an angry bartender
pushed vet

                William Sager

down the stairs to his death;
maybe helped hide
the security videotape
then it was

               Dillon Taylor

in Salt Lake City, and

              James Boyd

in Albuquerque

and       Darrien Hunt

in Saratoga Springs, Utah—
how about that grandmother

             Kathryn Johnston

shot to death in a SWAT team raid
gone bad?

in ’73 in Dallas

             Santos Rodríguez

was marked by officer Cain
who played Russian Roulette
with the handcuffed 12-year-old
in his cruiser—
till the .357 fired; Santos’ blood
all over his 13-year-old handcuffed
brother David

and those cries of
19-month-old      Bounkham Phonesavanh
in whose crib
the flash-bang grenade exploded

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Grace-Filled Moments

ON A COOL, windy October evening, the family of 23-year-old Dominic Amey Jr. stands outside and waits. They’re waiting for someone to tell them how and why Amey, a father of three, was shot and killed behind the house a week before. So they pray and they wait. But there aren’t any answers—at least none that night.

Joe Zelenka, a 74-year-old Catholic, wishes he had answers, but instead he offers the family what he has: prayers for peace and healing.

Zelenka has done this many times (probably too many times, if you ask him) since he began coordinating the Church Federation of Greater Indianapolis’ prayer vigils for homicide victims—many killed by gun violence—nearly 11 years ago. At every vigil, standing at the scene of the crime, Zelenka reads scripture, offers a prayer, and then invites those present to pray aloud if they so choose.

“I think it’s important that we bring God’s presence where violence has occurred,” he said. The vigils pre-date Zelenka’s tenure with the Church Federation—he’s the fourth person to hold the position of vigil coordinator since January 1996, when the Church Federation began holding a prayer vigil at the site of every violent homicide in the greater Indianapolis area.

The federation’s goal is peace and reconciliation, and to that end Zelenka will hold another service—this time for the person who shot Amey. It’s important, the federation believes, to pray for both the offender and the offended. It can be demanding work, particularly in a city where homicides have dramatically increased in the last few years. But Zelenka said the work is worth it when he witnesses the faith and resilience of the victims’ families.

“The rewarding part is to realize that there are families who want to forgive the perpetrator,” he said. “Families will stand at this prayer vigil where their loved one was killed, and they will pray that the perpetrator may find God somewhere along the line.”

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Shooting at Florida State University

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Early Thursday morning a gunman opened fire in a library at Florida State University, wounding three students before being fatally shot by police officers. Wielding a handgun, the shooter entered the library and forced hundreds of students studying for exams to flee or take cover behind bookshelves. NBC News reports:

FSU Police Department Chief David Perry said the library was “packed with students studying for final exams” and estimated that there were 300 to 400 people in the building. One group of students sought refuge behind rows of bookshelves. “Everyone started running to one side of the library, then to the back,” one 20-year-old communications student who asked not to be identified told NBC News. “People were saying, ‘Gun! There’s a shooter! Go! Go! Go!’" She said her group hid among bookcases for what she said felt like 20 minutes. Once given the all-clear, the group was escorted to a campus building next door where they stayed until 4 a.m.

Although the identity of the shooter is unknown, police officers believe he was acting alone and that there is no further threat to students at FSU.

WATCH the police report:

INFOGRAPHIC: Guns in America

In Dawn Cherie Araujo’s article, “Grace-Filled Moments” (Sojourners, January 2015), she explores the rising gun violence in Indianapolis and the ways local churches have taken stands to support families and rise up against the prevalence of grief in their communities.

What are groups like the Church Federation of Greater Indianapolis facing as they combat gun trafficking and violence? Check out the interactive infographic below and learn about the United States’ tumultuous relationship with guns. What are your state’s gun laws?

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Justice … not ‘Just Us’

Nagib /

Nagib /

I am a professor of religion at a small liberal arts college in Decorah, Iowa. For the last two weeks in my Religion 239: Clamoring for Change course, students and I have been reading the book Occupy Religion: Theology of the Multitude. We have been discussing the issue of “justice,” and we have been playing with an image of God as one who works from the bottom-up on behalf of many rather than one who works from the top-down on behalf of a few.

A fundamental principle within this “bottom-up” theology is the idea of God taking sides (a view quite common in most of the “liberative” theologies). Many people, however, are often uncomfortable with the idea of God taking sides. They often assert that such an image contradicts the idea of an impartial and all-loving God who cares equally for all people.

A bottom-up theology of God asserts that God is a God who exists in relationship with all of creation at the same time every created thing is in relationship with every other created thing. While the relationships that involve human beings may be governed by several principles, I believe one principle that governs all human relationships is the principle of “justice.”

Bonds of Brotherhood

PARDEEP KALEKA and former white supremacist Arno Michaelis clasped hands during a radio interview on the first anniversary of a mass shooting that changed both of their lives. Their embrace was the ultimate symbol of brotherhood—two starkly different backgrounds united by a common goal of peace and understanding in an oftentimes cruel and unforgiving world.

Pardeep Kaleka is a member of the Sikh faith community. His father was one of the six worshippers killed on Aug. 5, 2012, at the Sikh temple, or gurdwara, in Oak Creek, Wis. Three more were injured that day before the man opening fire on the temple was wounded by the police. The gunman then prepared for one final pull of the trigger, taking his own life.

The shooter was Wade Michael Page, a white supremacist, acting on his own volition that Sunday morning. He had spent his life practicing violence and hatred toward all kinds of people he felt to be “different” from him. This hatred culminated in a final unthinkable act, killing six people in cold blood at their holy place of worship.

There was angst, confusion, and grief among the Wisconsin Sikh community after this terrible tragedy. But where many may have expected anger from those most deeply affected, the Sikhs responded with something thoroughly refreshing: peace.

IN THE 21ST CENTURY, peace seems to be more of a mental construct than a state of being. The world around us is filled with conflict, struggle, and anguish. But when the Oak Creek Sikh community had an opportunity to respond likewise to an act of hatred, they refused.

Instead, the Sikhs reached out to the world with a passion to promote peace. The Sikhs took the opportunity to educate the world about who they are—a faith community filled with peace and devotion. But more important, they taught the world an incredibly valuable lesson: Answering hate with more hate leads nowhere. Love and understanding is the only path forward.

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Unlocking the Answer to School Shootings

YuryZap /

“Sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” YuryZap /

Last week’s school shooting in Marysville, Wash., has us all asking the question again: Why did this happen?

Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary gave voice to the despair many are feeling as we search for answers. “The question everybody wants is ‘Why?’ I don’t know that the ‘why’ is something we can provide.”

Why did Jaylen Fryberg text his friends and family members to join him for lunch only to shoot them and then shoot himself? Whenever these tragedies occur we are tempted to blame the shooter by making him into a monster. We label the shooter “mentally ill,” claim that he was isolated from his peers, or was a generally troubled youth.

The answer to the question “Why?” has usually been to blame the shooter. We make the shooter into a monster because it allows us to make sense of senseless violence. Why did this tragedy happen? Because he was evil.

But Fryberg’s case won’t allow such easy answers. By all accounts, he was a popular and happy young man, seemingly incapable of causing such harm.

This horrific shooting is so scary because no one saw it coming. If a popular kid like could commit such a heinous act, anyone could do the same. Fryberg’s case deprives us of the easy out of blaming another. The only thing left is to face our own violence.

Weekly Wrap 10.24.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Black People Riot Over Injustice; White People Riot Over Pumpkins and Football
Title says it all.

2. Where Did Ottawa Shooter Get His Gun? 
Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was under criminal prohibition from obtaining firearms because of past convictions. A helpful glimpse into Canada’s system of gun rules.  

3. The Paradox of the Christian CEO
Fr. James Martin expounds on Catholic social teaching to address the difficult question: “The question I would ask Christian CEOs is blunt: What do you want to say to Jesus when you reach the gates of heaven? That you took as much as you could, or as much as the market would bear, because the board okay’d it? Or that you accepted what you thought was just,and understood the needs of your fellow men and women, who may have worked even harder than you?

4. A Sandy Hook Father’s Plea
Mark Barden lost a child in the Sandy Hook massacre. In this moving testimony, he offers a plea that we all do what we can to stop the next school shooting before it happens.