Why Does This Keep Happening? - Word&Way

Why Does This Keep Happening?

As of this writing, 19 ten-year-old children and two teachers have died in another school shooting involving the high caliber rapid firing AR-15 and a handgun. The 18-year-old shooter with unknown motives spent 45 wretched minutes barricaded in a classroom firing bullet after bullet into the bodies of innocent children before being killed by police at the scene.

Greg Mamula

Greg Mamula

You know this. You have seen the news, read the tweets, streamed the press conference reactions, praised our first responders, and collected the thoughts and prayers of our politicians. Maybe you saw the news and like Brian Zahnd yelled the most holy “goddammit” of your life. Maybe like my family you just sat in your living room crying for a while.

Why does this keep happening?

The Gun Violence Archive states there have been a total of 17,199 gun-involved deaths (murder, accident, and suicide) just in 2022 America. Every single day more than 110 people die from gunshot wounds in America. But that information does not deter us if anything it seems to motivate us to buy more guns. In 2020 Americans set a firearm purchasing record by legally buying 22.8 million guns. Unsatiated, we then went out and bought another 19.9 million more firearms amounting to about 6 guns for every 100 people in 2021. This data does not even account for all the illegal or undocumented peer-to-peer purchases. There are an estimated 380-400 million guns in circulation in the United States. That means there are 50-70 million more guns than residents (US population is 329.5 million) in this country. This creates a culture in which 48% of Americans worry they will be the victim of a mass shooting event.

Why does this keep happening?

Like a twisted idolatrous liturgical call and response moment of worship to guns, my social media feeds were filled with familiar well-worn responses. Many of them seem to just be on repeat like the chorus to a praise song that won’t end. After so many traumatic events, what else can we say? There were blame shifts, calls for immediate legal reform, praise for first responders, condemnation of poor mental health care, images of grieving survivors, and defense of the right to bear arms. There of course were lots of thoughts and prayers.

Calls to prayer, lament, and concern are important and should not be overlooked or passed by quickly. It is how we process grief too big to be easily compartmentalized. As Christians, we believe in the ability of prayer to bring peace, healing, and restoration. We believe prayer can help move God into action. It was the cries of the people of Israel in Egypt that God heard and helped move God into action to liberate them in Exodus 3.

But prayer should also change us. It is one of the central ways God uses to bring about transformation. As Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline states, “The closer we come to the heartbeat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to conformed to Christ… In prayer, real prayer, we begin to think God’s thoughts after him: to desire the things he desires, to love the things he loves, to will the things he wills.” If we are truly offering our thoughts and prayers to the tragedy that is the epic endemic of gun violence in America, we will have our hearts changed to want what God wants on this issue. If we pray and nothing changes, then we have not truly prayed. Because if you pray, meditate, and lament on this topic for long, it will break your heart and move you to action. If we are not truly praying, then when we offer up our thoughts and prayers on social media with no discernable action steps for peace, healing, and reform, we are simply offering empty virtue signals into an echo chamber.

Why does this keep happening?

Gun reform is a complicated and multifaceted problem. There is no single solution. That reality alone should give us the permission to stop being drawn into debates around false dualities. It is not that we need better mental health options or we need universal background checks. It is not that we need to implement red flag laws or raise the purchasing age to 21. It is not that we need to limit access to assault weapons or we need to train guards in schools. The reality is that we need all of these and so many other reforms working together in concert with one another at some level. But like so many other difficult topics, we instinctively want to break it down into simple soundbites that can be easily debated in a pro-con fashion. This is where we immediately go off the rails. We cannot approach issues as complicated as trying to reign in 380 million guns in the hands of fearful people with simplistic solutions.

Advocacy is important. But it requires engagement, money, and time. Yelling in a comment section or reposting a meme is not advocacy. It might feel good in the moment, but it does not actually make a difference to policymakers and groups dealing with the complexity of gun reform.

Here are a few ways your lament and prayers can be put into action:

Contact your local representative demanding reasonable commonsense gun reform. Visit https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative to find out who your representative is and how to contact them.

Contact your senator demanding reasonable commonsense gun reform. Visit https://www.senate.gov/senators/senators-contact.htm to find out who your senator is and how to contact them

Join an advocacy group like the ones below. Donate to them, join a local chapter, and get involved in learning more about this issue.

  1. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America – An important grassroots activist organization formed by stay-at-home mom Shannon Watts following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.
  2. Everytown for Gun Safety – An umbrella organization coordinating the activities of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Mayors against Illegal Guns.
  3. Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence – The Brady Campaign works to pass and enforce federal and state gun laws, regulations, and public policies through grassroots activism, electing public officials who support gun control legislation, and increasing public awareness of gun violence.
  4. Coalition to Stop Gun Violence – The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) seeks to secure freedom from gun violence through research, strategic engagement and effective policy advocacy. CSGV is comprised of 47 national organizations working to reduce gun violence. Its coalition members include religious organizations, child welfare advocates, public health professionals, and social justice organizations.
  5. Mayors Against Illegal Guns – Mayors Against Illegal Guns is a coalition of over 1000 current and former mayors across the country who have joined together to prevent criminals from possessing guns illegally.
  6. Third Way – Third Way is a think tank that seeks to advance public policy. Their agenda includes tighter gun safety laws.
  7. Gun Free Kids – GunFreeKids.org (GFK) is an Internet-based 501 (c) 4 issue advocacy organization, which provides tools for people to take action on pending state and national legislation and assists voters nationwide in learning about and supporting state-based candidates who favor gun violence prevention policies.

Read books and get informed. I recommend Beating Guns: Hope for People Who are Weary of Violence by Shane Claiborne and Michael Martin as a starting point.

Why does this keep happening?

Sometimes the best we can do in times like this is cry for a little bit, perhaps yell a sacred “goddammit.” Now is the time to get up and get moving and demand change. Let’s work together to find good solutions to stop the violence in our country that is taking the lives of our friends, neighbors, and family.

God have mercy on us if we continue to sacrifice our children in honor of our right to bear arms.

 

Rev. Dr. Greg Mamula is the Associate Executive Minister for the American Baptist Churches of Nebraska, and a contributing writer for Word&Way. He is the author of Table Life: An Invitation to Everyday Discipleship, published by Judson Press in print and e-reader versions from online distributors including Amazon. To learn more information visit www.table-life.org.