It was already going to be a month of terrible anniversaries.
May 14 marks one year since a white supremacist rampaged through a grocery store in Buffalo, killing 10.
On May 24, it will be one year since the horrors at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, when 19 children and two teachers were killed in their classrooms.
And in June, it will be one year since a man walked into a potluck supper at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama and shot three people dead.
Given the pace of gun violence in our country – there were nearly 50 shootings in the United States in the past year in which four or more people died – it was unlikely that we would only be marking anniversaries this month. And sure enough, last Saturday, yet another angry person with easy access to assault weapons was able to quickly end the lives of innocent people. This time it was in our backyard, at a mall in Allen where many of our parishioners regularly shop.
It feels like a replay loop after each of these catastrophes. There will be some who offer “thoughts and prayers” to the victim families, and others who decry such statements as callously hollow. There will be a brief bout of public debate, with lots of shouting and not much listening, and then we’ll move on, numb and anxious, to wait for the next wave of bullets to fly.
It is hard to know what to say in this nightmare loop of bloodshed, and I have sympathy for leaders who must speak in these moments to a weary and divided people. But what happened in Allen, like all the hundreds of other mass shootings, was not an “unspeakable tragedy,” as one leader characterized it. As horrific as they are, as much as we all want them to stop, we must not stop speaking about gun violence. That which we choose not to speak of only gains more power. And while they may be tragedies in the strict sense, they are certainly not unavoidable.
We have chosen to accept the proliferation of guns – 400 million and rapidly counting in our nation, or more than one for every man, woman, and child. And guns do what they are designed to do: kill. It has been said that guns don’t kill people; people kill people – which is true. But it begs a moral question: why then do we choose to make such killing machines easily available to anyone who wants one?
Our nation is the awful fulfillment of Jesus’ prophetic words: those who live by weapons will die by weapons (Matt 26:52). The U.S. death toll from gun-related injuries in 2021 was more than 48,000. Roughly 20,000 of those were homicides, but we should not forget the 26,000 people who were far-too-easily able to take their own lives with a gun, nor the hundreds more who were shot and killed accidentally. Guns are now the leading cause of death for American children and teens. Not sickness or car accidents or SIDS. Guns.
These are objects of human origin, which can be regulated like all other deadly objects in our world. This is why the Episcopal Church has advocated since the 1970s for legislation to reduce the risk of gun violence. Among the recommendations, our church has encouraged:
- Background checks for every gun purchase
- Required safety training for all gun owners
- Bans on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines
- Tightening laws against gun trafficking
- Research into the prevention and causes of gun violence
We all know the political reality and the obstacles to such common-sense measures. We all know the deep entrenchment of our national politics and the power wielded by a relatively small number of citizens and lobbying groups. But what we mustn’t do is allow these events to become “unspeakable” or cease our drumbeat for change. We mustn’t let fatalism take root and become resigned to this current reality. For we have made big promises to God through baptism – to “strive for justice and peace among all people” and “respect the dignity of every human being” – and God is looking for us to keep them. They should lead us to stand up for all those who have suffered the harm of human sin and violence. They should inspire actions that make it more on earth as it is in heaven. They should move us to speak up when so many are falling silent.
So let’s keep up our thoughts and prayers:
for all those grieving the death of loved ones, that they may be comforted;
for our leaders, that they will embrace common sense solutions to solvable problems;
and for ourselves, that we will do all we can to help our nation turn from its obsession with guns and live.