The school shooting in Parkland, Fla., reminds us of the epidemic of gun violence in the United States. According to Everytown for Gun Safety research, this was the 18th incident involving guns on school campuses in 2018—a horrifying statistic that will likely keep rising. As a pediatrician who completed medical school and residency training on the south and west sides of Chicago, I have seen firsthand the devastating effects of gun violence, from the 2-year-old child accidentally shot by his 8-year-old sibling to the 15-year-old who died by suicide with his father’s gun. These scenarios have contributed to my belief that offering “thoughts and prayers” is simply not an appropriate response when it comes to gun violence.
In residency, you spend a great many days and nights at the hospital. You get used to the constant pecking of computer keys and the beeping of heart monitors. But in children’s hospitals, there is one sound you never get used to and will never forget: the primal cry that occurs when a mother first hears that her child has died from gun violence. My former colleague Sameer Vohra, M.D., J.D., M.A., describes it in the Journal of the American Medical Association: “It is as if this loud, simultaneously high-pitched and bellowing shriek was predisposed to occur in mothers for one, and only one, event. . . . This scream means only one thing—the death of a child.”
According to a recent study in Pediatrics, this scream occurs, on average, 1,297 times every year due to guns. Gun-related deaths are now the third-leading cause of death in children in the U.S. In 2016 there were 14,925 homicidal gun-related deaths, 22,938 suicidal gun-related deaths, and 795 unintentional or undetermined-intent gun-related deaths. With all of this senseless violence, how do we as Reformed Christians respond? Is it enough to say, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you”?
John Calvin wrote in his Institutes regarding the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder”: “We are required to do what in us lies to defend the life of our neighbor, to promote whatever tends to his tranquility, to be vigilant in warding off harm, and when danger comes, to assist in removing it.” Therefore, in my opinion, it seems we can do more. We are taught to engage and reform the world by investing our energy and resources in Christ-centered political and social action. As a community of Reformed believers, let us use our energy to stop this senseless violence and assist in removing this danger from our communities.
Now is the time for action.
Now is the time for the removal of guns from our communities.
Now is the time for shalom.