As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. These perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
Parkland, Florida. To those of us living in northern climes, the name might evoke images of winter warmth and sunshine. But not any more. Since the afternoon of February 14, Parkland has become the latest in a litany of communities scarred by school shootings. Seattle, Wash. Sierra Vista, Ariz. San Bernardino, Calif. Marshall, Texas. Winston-Salem, N.C. Italy, Texas. Gentilly, La. Benton, Ky. Mobile, Ala. Dearborn, Mich. Philadelphia, Pa. Los Angeles, Calif. Oxon Hill, Md. New York, N.Y. (Editor's Note: Not all of these shootings incurred deaths and injuries.) And that’s in just the first six weeks of 2018.
Lord, have mercy.
That’s how Christians often respond when we hear about the latest shooting. But how long will those of us who live in the U.S. put up with what has become an epidemic of mass shootings? When will parents be able to kiss their children goodbye and not wonder if their child’s school will be next? When will we stand up to those who profit from the manufacture, sale, and proliferation of military-style weapons?
There’s a distressing and familiar formula that takes place around mass shootings in the U.S. We see horrifying footage on the news. A day or so later, state and national government officials and legislators offer “prayers and condolences” to the victims’ families. In the wake of the tragedy, citizens or victims of violence who suggest we need laws limiting access to military hardware are told by those same legislators and government officials, “This isn’t the time to talk about it.”
But really, the time for legislators to offer “thoughts and prayers” is long past. Lyliah Skinner, a 16-year-old student who survived the Florida school shooting, told CNN: "As our legislators and leaders, they shouldn't be offering prayers and words, because those mean nothing. We need action, because action is going to change what's happening." And she’s right; our cries to God on behalf of those who mourn must be accompanied by action.
Can we listen?
Can we ask why citizens of the United States own more guns per capita than citizens of any other country? Can we ask why we allow legislators to accept tens of thousands of dollars from the National Rifle Association? Can we ask why we don’t hold these lawmakers accountable for their failure to support legislation that promotes the safety of children in schools and churches? Can we honestly claim that restricting access to guns wouldn’t make any difference? Can we ask how well our reverence for life is served by our unwavering defense of our “right to bear arms”—no matter what?
I grieve for those who lost loved ones, for those who experienced terror this week in a place where they should have been safe. But my grief isn’t going to do them any good. Nor will the grief of the president or members of Congress. Unless it propels us to stand up and say, “It’s time.” Time to stand up to the idolatry that makes us think we can save ourselves by using our own weapons to take out the “bad guys.” Time to change the laws that have allowed mass shootings to become commonplace horrors.
Lord, have mercy, yes. On all those whose lives have forever been changed by acts of violence. On those who prefer to take no action that might discourage those acts. And on those who have the courage to take a stand. Limiting access to guns makes a difference. It’s time to make it happen.