There are two prevalent ways that we contribute to or allow the sacrifices of our daughters and sons in contemporary U.S. society. One, the numbers of individuals, especially children and youth, who are killed through gun violence each year. Two, veterans and their families who are not receiving the adequate and timely care and support they deserve. Both these forms of sacrifice have become so normalized as part of U.S. culture that it has become easy to overlook them or to call something else.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
President Barack Obama is expected to call upon lawmakers and Congress Tuesday as he asks for their support in backing his measures concerning gun safety. In the wake of announcing 21 of 23 tasks completed on the “executive to-do list,” Obama is hoping for funding as conversations about gun safety continue. The Los Angeles Times reports:
Administration officials say there has been progress on several actions taken by Obama under executive authority, including directives to end the freeze on gun violence research and to reduce barriers that keep states from submitting records to the national background system.
Read more here.
In the fourth chapter of Genesis, after the proverbial “fall” of humanity, two brothers stand in a field. Cain is a farmer — Abel, a herdsman. Both bring offerings from their labor to God, but Abel brings his first fruits, so God looks on Abel’s offering with delight. In a jealous rage Cain rises up against Abel and kills him. This is the first recorded murder in the Bible.
I will never forget walking onto the National Mall early on the morning of April 11, 2013. As I approached a mass of people and television cameras between the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building I was overcome by the sight of more than 3,300 crosses and other religious symbols rising from the heart of our capital city. They represented the graves of all the people who have died by gunfire since the December 14, 2012 shooting massacre at Newtown, Conn. It was profound. It was overwhelming.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns is buidling grassroots organizations across the country. After setbacks in Congress, the coalition is shifting its focus to local politicians and state legislatures. The coalition faces an uphill battle in many states against well-organized networks of gun enthusiasts, but New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has vowed to continue the fight. The New York Times reports:
“We don’t give up,” said John Feinblatt, who oversees Mayors Against Illegal Guns and serves as Mr. Bloomberg’s chief policy adviser. “We’re here for the long haul.”
Read more here.
A new study from the Violence Policy Center found you are more likely to die from gun violence than be killed in a traffic accident in 12 states and the District of Columbia. Motor vehicle fatality are on the decline because of safety measures instituted by the government. Firearms remain as the only consumer product not regulated by a federal agency. The Huffington Post reports:
Overall, there were 31,672 firearm deaths in 2010 and 35,498 motor vehicle deaths. Compare these numbers to 1999, when there were 28,874 firearm deaths and 42,624 motor vehicle deaths.
Read more here.
Gun control advocates are escalating their campaign toward senators who voted against the proposal to extend background checks. The campaign includes letter-writing campaigns, protests at town hall meetings and television ads. Several senators inclucding Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) have seen their poll numbers plunge since voting against the proposal to extend backgroun checks. The Los Angeles Times reports:
"The outside game is about convincing those who voted no that they've made the wrong choice. And that is happening. There are definitely second thoughts out there," said Jim Kessler, a gun policy expert at the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way. Senators who opposed the agreement, he said, "expected the politics to work for them after the vote and so far it hasn't."
Read more here.