I have been at a loss for words regarding the mass shooting that took place in Las Vegas. The loss of life and infliction of injury by one person reveals a level of disconnect with humanity I cannot wrap my head around. Over 50 dead and over 500 wounded? Over 500? The impact of this event is staggering. My initial reaction was that I didn’t even know what to pray for. Words wouldn’t come to my lips, at least not any that made any sense or carried any weight. Then I remembered:
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. – Romans 8:26
At this time we do not know why Stephen Paddock did what he did. Maybe that will become more clear as authorities learn more about what happened. It is not lost on me that tonight my church hosts a guest speaker and panel discussion on Shining Light on Mental Illness with a focus on belonging. Did Stephen feel like he belonged anywhere? I don’t know.
As I watched the news last night trying to pull my thoughts together I bet I heard “our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their friends and families” a million times. It sounded like everyone was reading from the same script. And the words, quite frankly, rang hollow. It’s the same thing we said after Orlando. It’s the same thing we said after Sandy Hook. Is that all we will have to offer after the next time a mass shooting takes place? Enough. We can do better.
I know I do not have a solution for this problem. But it is a problem. I know doing nothing is not an appropriate response for the magnitude of these tragedies. I hear people say that someone who was going to do this would get hold of guns illegally and couldn’t be stopped. Maybe. But I also know that after Australia had a mass shooting in 1996, the country united behind tougher, sensible laws on firearms. As a result, the gun homicide rate was cut almost in half, and the gun suicide rate dropped by half, according to the Journal of Public Health Policy.
I have good friends that are hunters who own and use guns. While I do not care to own a gun, I completely understand and respect that others feel differently. Hunters in my family point out that you cannot hunt animals with assault weapons. You ruin the game and render it inedible. With the increase in gun violence in our country and the number of deaths caused by homicide and not hunting accidents, I believe we can do better. Certainly the kinds of guns people can buy and the legal conversion kits are worthy of debate. Can’t we talk about what is best for our country from both sides of the perspective and not immediately devolve into hot political debate? Please?
It strikes me as bizarre that we have an elaborate, multi-tiered regulatory and training system to teach people to drive a car and get a drivers license, but pretty much anyone can buy assault style weapons, conversion kits and thousands of rounds of ammunition without serious impediment.
Interestingly, Caleb Keeter, a guitarist with the Josh Abbott Band, tweeted a shift in mindset after living through the events of Sunday. Read more about his thoughts [here] on the need for gun control after being a life long supporter for the right to bear arms. Maybe it’s time for all of us to come to the table and talk about ways in which we can put words to our actions. That surely there is more that we can do other than offer our “thoughts and prayers”.
I may not be able to name the different kinds of guns and explain how they work. But, I do know that shooting thousands of bullets into a large concert crowd with no other recognizable purpose than to cause harm breaks God’s heart. And I know that what breaks God’s heart should also break my heart. And it does.
The post-shooting cycle is starting to take hold as I type today. Those on the left yell about gun control. Those on the right engage in fear mongering about the government coming to take guns away. Those in the middle, like me, feel lost. Meanwhile, publically traded gun companies see their stock values surge as sales suddenly bump up in reaction to all the gun posturing. And, we as Christians continue to pray. We pray for the dead, the wounded, and for answers and peace. We pray for wisdom and to spread God’s love.
No matter what side of the gun control/gun lobby spectrum you find yourself, isn’t it time that we acknowledge that our system is broken? Doesn’t this pattern of behavior teach us that something needs to change? Hasn’t enough bloodshed happened on our own soil unrelated to terrorism or war to warrant some kind of response on how people access particular kind of guns or upgrade kits? How we provide care for mental illness? Are our prayers and our thoughts enough?
Or maybe there are other strategies for how we can help our society step away from the propensity towards violence. I am reminded of the life of Oscar Romero, Archbishop in El Salvador who spoke out against social injustice, violence, and poverty in favor of Christ’s love. His life story is a difficult one but his message is a powerful witness.
“Let us not tire of preaching love. Though we see that waves of violence succeed in drowning the fire of Christian love, love must win out; it is the only thing that can.” -Oscar Romero
We must not tire of preaching love. Enough violence. More love. Enough.
Grace and Peace,