Beyond Thoughts and Prayers

Vantage Point
Now is the time for the removal of guns from our communities.

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.

About the Author

Dr. Justin D. Triemstra is an academic general pediatrician in Grand Rapids, Mich. He is a member of LaGrave Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids. 

See comments (4)


Yikes, "Now is the time for the removal of guns in our community"?

We would do better by finding some balance in our perspective about guns.  Police really need guns.  Our Second Amendment creates legal rights (even if subject to reasonable regulation") that defend the right for folks to have guns.  And some folks have and use guns for very legitimate -- some necessary -- reasons.

And, of course, the "removal of guns in our communities" wouldn't remove crime -- even murder -- from our communities, nor death from non-crimes -- from car accidents or any number of other causes.  Just ask the mayor of London (who now wants to ban knives in public).  To say it another way, the "removal of guns in our communities" will not create the "shalom" that this articles suggests it will.

Again, we are better served with balance.  

The idea of the “epidemic of gun violence” in the US, is just partisan rhetoric, and not based on facts. The violent crimes and the murder rates were far higher between the 1960s to late 1990s, than they have been in the last decade. The suicide rate is climbing, and in America, many of those suicides are with a firearm. But the World Health Organization has pointed out that the availability of guns, is not a major factor in a nation's suicide rate (example #1, Japan).
Yes, I'm sure bereaved mothers have a terrifying scream. But I'm also sure it is no less terrifying when the child drowns in a pool or pond, versus being shot (and drownings far out pace deaths by a gun among young children).
As Reformed Christians, in this fallen world, we understand the realities of sin and depravity, and so evil must be restrained. But the reality that the author is ignoring, is the ways that mass civilian firearm ownership keeps everyone safer. The CDC, in their own survey, found that firearms were used defensively between 1 to 2 million times a year (often without a shot being fired). Or consider this, in the US, only 13% of burglaries take place when someone is at home. In Britain and Canada, the rate is closer to 50%. Why? Because felons are more afraid of running into an armed civilians, than they are of encountering police officers. And so, even if you would never own a gun, the reality is that many of your neighbor's owning and carrying firearms, is keeping you and your family safer every day. Gun ownership, and particularly concealed carry, has sky rocketed during the last two decades (while our murder and violent crime rates have decreased). And while mass shootings like that in FL are horrifying, and get all of the media attention, they also almost exclusively take place in the few areas that law abiding private citizens are still prohibited from carrying a gun.

The previous 2 comments well represent my position on this issue. I would only add that it is unfortunate that the ill-informed writer of this piece saw fit to use  the most bogus and debunked anti-gun “fact” being prompted by the fake media today. That being the lie promoted by the Bloomberg funded “Everytown” statement that there have been 18 school shootings to date this year. Even the left-leaning Washington Post fact checker gave this lie multiple Pinocchio’s. You see, facts matter. If you want to have a discussion, fine. Just done BS us with lies, distortions, and omissions. I doesn’t help your argument at all.  

Snopes has an excellent review of the claim of 18 gun incidents on U.S. school campuses in the first months of 2018 at Everytown's broad definition of the issue makes one question their overall credibility.

School shootings and mass shootings, generally, have occurred in gun-free zones. If I were still teaching I would be willing to volunteer as a trained and armed member of the school staff. I believe that if the public knew that someone in a school might be armed (teacher, custodian, secretary, or administrator), it would be a deterrent, whether anyone actually is armed or not.