Gun Violence

The New Normal?

Bullets with crayons. Via TFoxFoto/Shutterstock.

I grew up in the state of Colorado. It’s known for cowboys, mountains, skiing, smoking pot, the Broncos, but also — mass school shootings. Since the recent shooting at Seattle Pacific University my connection to mass murder and school shootings has become all too familiar.

My younger brother is a freshman at Seattle Pacific University where a 26-year-old with a shotgun recently killed one and injured three others in the latest school shooting. My brother is finishing up his first year of school as a music major before moving to Santa Cruz in the summer to work as Christian summer camp counselor. While untouched by the damage to the shooter, another young man on the same dorm floor as him, Paul Lee, was not so fortunate. He was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead (three other wounded victims survived). Though the body count was considerably less than recent events at Santa Barbara, its timing mirrors the increasing normality with which such shootings are now taking place. Sadly, a tragedy such as this merely becomes fodder for political bickering and ideological advancement.

My brother and I grew up with guns in the town of Bailey, Colo. Bailey is a strange mixture of rednecks, conservative Christians, new age folks, commuters, hippies, outdoor enthusiasts, and undeniably proud gun owners. My dad was a hunter and kept a rifle beneath his bed, which was made out of Aspen trees he chopped, stripped, and stained himself. Every October he would take a week off work and go into the mountains with some friends to go hunt.

The Lunacy of a Nation

Student with a gun at school, LoloStock / Shutterstock.com

Student with a gun at school, LoloStock / Shutterstock.com

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.

He was an athlete, a soccer coach, a people pleaser, a brother, a son. He had a girlfriend, and he loved to make people laugh.

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.

Seattle Pacific Shooting: Communal Wounds

The clock tower at Seattle Pacific University | Photo by tigerzombie via Flickr.

Not one more” was the sentiment and catchphrase of the community in Isla Vista, the town near Santa Barbara where Elliot Rodger shot and killed six people. Christopher Michaels-Martinez, a 20 year-old man, was among the victims and it was his father, Richard, who has passionately enjoined citizens and politicians to enact gun reform.

But it seems inevitable that, when we talk about gun reform, it will always be too little, too late. Yesterday, a gunman opened fire at Seattle Pacific University, a Christian liberal arts college, killing one person and injuring three others. A student named John Meis was working as a building monitor nearby and took advantage of the pause while the shooter reloaded his gun to pepper spray him. Other students and faculty members joined Meis in restraining the shooter until police arrived. The shooter, a 26 year-old man named Aaron Yberra, was armed with a shotgun, a knife, and extra ammunition. He is now in custody.

Interfaith Group Speaks Out in Wake of Santa Barbara Shooting Spree

An interfaith gathering of 15 organizations spoke out against gun violence Thursday. Religion News Service photo by Megan Sweas.

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.

Faith And Reason Can Help Break Cycle Of Violence We Do To Ourselves, Others

Winright seeks to equip and enable students to think theologically, to inform their consciences about significant questions and issues of the day, and to be men and women for others. He is an active member of several professional and learned societies, co-editor of the Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics, book reviews editor for the international journal Political Theology and a contributing writer to Sojourners magazine.

Young Guns: Gun Violence Effects on Millennials

Gun sketch, Aleks Melnik / Shutterstock.com

Gun sketch, Aleks Melnik / Shutterstock.com

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.

A Time to Grieve, a Time to Remember

Lauren Markoe/RNS

Carole King sings a hymn at the National Vigil for Victims of Gun Violence. Lauren Markoe/RNS

To mark the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, which left 20 students and six adults dead, a vigil for victims of gun violence was held at Washington National Cathedral last week.

The vigil, sponsored in part by the Newtown Foundation, was a service to remember and honor the more than 30,000 people who lose their lives to gun violence each year. It provided a space for the community to come together in prayers for hope, peace, and love.

After three minutes of silence during the calling bells, a trio of faith leaders, including a rabbi, a Sikh leader, and a Christian minister, offered up calls to prayer. At his turn to speak, Dr. Rajwant Singh affirmed that “whichever way we reach out to God, we can become separated from each other by ignorance, hatred, and violence.” “Each heart is God’s heart, and each body is God’s temple,” Singh continued, “so if you want to honor God, don’t take anyone’s life, or break anyone’s heart.”

On Scripture: Happy are Those Whose Help is the God of Jesse (Psalm 146:5-10)

Photo courtesy of Odyssey Networks

Mourners remember the shooting at Sandy Hook. Photo courtesy of Odyssey Networks

After learning about Jesse Lewis, a six-year-old who died in the Sandy Hook shooting a year ago this Dec. 14th, I’m thinking about scratching out the name Jacob in Psalm 146 and writing in Jesse.

Psalm 146, verse 5 says, “Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God.” I’m wondering if scratching out Jacob and writing in Jesse, at least in these upcoming weeks, might be a way of praying to transform anger and resentment into love and forgiveness. 

Jesse was a pretty amazing six-year old who loved adventures, mud, a golden yellow bear, and his big brother. His mom says he was “full of courage and strength,” so much so, that in the midst of the unfolding tragedy Jesse stood still and told his classmates to “Run!” In so doing, he lost his life. 

Scarlett Lewis, Jesse’s mom, returned home after the unthinkable tragedy only to find something wonderful Jesse had scratched onto the kitchen chalkboard: "Norturing, helin, love."  His mom knew immediately these were Jesse’s last words to her: Nurturing, healing, love. In her book, Nurturing Healing Love: A Mother’s Journey of Hope & Forgiveness, Scarlett tells the story of her journey to forgiveness and hope as a legacy beyond anger and resentment. She begins, of course, with Jesse’s story.

Bringing America Back to Life

Photo courtesy of Shane Claiborne

A mother who lost her child to gun violence beats on the barrel of a handgun from the streets. Photo courtesy of Shane Claiborne

Yesterday, I read about the 2-year old child who shot herself by accident in North Carolina over the weekend. Then I read about the horror of another school shooting in Nevada. Only hours later — shots rang out again on our block in North Philadelphia, for the second time this week.  This time a bullet went through the window of one of the houses owned by our non-profit.

I was talking to a friend about my anger over the 300 lives lost in our city this year to gun violence. With the most sincere intentions, my friend said in an attempt to console me:  “It’s just the way the world is.” 

I’m not willing to give up that easy. It may be the way the world is today, but it doesn’t have to be the way the world is tomorrow.

Gun Victims, Erased from Our Memory

Photo courtesy of Charles Honey

The gun mural at Fountain Street Church, before erasure. Photo courtesy of Charles Honey

It didn’t take long to erase the gun.

Greg Bokor’s ArtPrize drawing of an assault rifle at Grand Rapids’ Fountain Street Church was rubbed out Sept. 21 after the public was invited to wield erasers imprinted with sorrow.

Normally festive art lovers obliterated the killing machine with erasers bearing the names of 83 massacred children and adults. They included Jesse Lewis, age 6, one of 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December; Veronica Moser-Sullivan, also 6, youngest of 12 people killed in the 2012 Aurora, Colo. movie-theater slaughter; and the 45 victims of the Columbine High School and Virginia Tech shootings.

Within hours, the public had rendered the AR-15 just a faintly visible image. It was a powerful symbol of what many of us would like to see happen to these weapons of death so easily available to mentally deranged people seeking sick revenge.

Tragically, in real life, it is the children and other victims who have been so easily erased from our consciousness.

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