Yesterday, students around the nation walked out of their classrooms at 10 a.m. to draw attention to the need for stricter gun control laws. The walkouts — estimated to be held at 3,000 schools across the United States — commemorated the one-month anniversary of the shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school that left 17 people dead.
I used to write a blog post every time there was a mass shooting. After awhile, though, it became futile to keep up. In the United States, we have an epidemic, with Vox estimating in February that there have been more than 1,600 mass shootings in the country since the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. While gun rights activists will quibble with the numbers, the truth is that even if you quartered that figure, it’s still way too much.
Next month, we’ll observe the 19th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, where two young men murdered 12 students and one teacher. At the time, it was an unthinkable catastrophe. But since, it’s been eclipsed by events whose names are a shorthand for tragedy: Virginia Tech, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Orlando and Las Vegas.
When terrorists attacked the United States in 2001, we made changes that altered our lives. Boarding an airplane, getting a passport and even posting rants online are affected by security measures we’ve taken to try to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again. Are they hassles and inconveniences? Absolutely. Have we had to relinquish some of our rights to try to stay safe? Yes; but we’ve decided it’s worth the risk.
In the nearly 20 years since Columbine, what have we done? Nothing. There are still mass shootings, innocent people are still murdered in public places, and our government’s best solution is “well, let’s teach people to shoot back.” And I’m not being facetious when I say it’s the best solution. Yes, it’s a horrible one — arming inexperienced civilians and expecting them to stay calm, cool and collected in extreme situations is the height of idiocy — but even a horrible solution by an incompetent president is closer to dealing with this issue than we’ve come in two decades (President Obama proposed solutions, which were voted down by a Congress in the pocket of the NRA).
And the tragedy is this: As we cry out “Second Amendment” and cling to our guns, we sacrifice our children and give up our responsibility to make this world a safe place for the next generation.
The innocents cry out
The most haunting thing about our plague of mass shootings is how many children have died because of our inaction. Every death is tragic, but there’s something damning about children being slaughtered. After Columbine, we should have acted. We didn’t. After Virginia Tech and Aurora, where several young people simply seeing a movie were murdered, we didn’t. Even after a gunman walked into an elementary school and shot first and second graders to death, we did nothing. My son, a kindergartner, has to do drills to prepare for a shooter because we as a nation have decided his safety is not worth us asking if maybe we cling too tightly to our guns.
Instead, we come up with excuses. We blame video games and movies, even though no conclusive evidence has linked those to violence and mass murder was happening before they permeated our culture. We say mental illness is the cause, even as the same politicians blaming it cut funding to treat it (and it’s hardly the only reason we’re so angry). We cling to the Second Amendment because for some reason we believe that it gives us the right to own as many guns of whatever type we desire. We say not to politicize these events, even though they occur so regularly. And those who do speak up and argue for some sort of change — and I’m shamefully including myself here — let the topic fade when some other national controversy arises — and let’s be honest, in this climate, there’s a national controversy every day.
What kind of parents will we be?
The Bible makes the assumption that parents want to do what’s right for their children and that, when their kids ask for something good, their parents will give it to them. Jesus makes this claim in Matthew 7:9, when he says “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” The implication is that if our child is hungry and asks to be fed, the most natural thing for a parent to do is provide that sustenance. We won’t withhold good or give them something that harms them instead.
And yet, as our children take to the halls and vacate their classrooms, that’s exactly what we’re doing. Maybe we’re condemning their protest, which is akin to saying, “You shouldn’t be asking for food at all.” Or we’re telling them they’re not really in danger, which the news negates on such a regular basis that we might as well tell them that their growling stomachs mean they’re just fine. Or we’re ignoring their request, giving them what we want instead of what they ask for. We’ll have your inexperienced, underpaid teachers protect you. Our rights to carry whatever guns we want are more important than your right to live. We might as well be telling them, “this bread is bad for you, eat this rock.”
And our stubborn refusal to discuss a solution or accept any limitations on guns reveals our idolatry. We say “what a shame” that kids are dying and then say, “it’s too dangerous,” “ I won’t surrender my weapons” or “don’t touch my guns.” And when we refuse to act and our children continue to die, when will we realize that we have sacrificed them to our gods of fear and power? Our kids are dying. We are doing nothing. How is that not child sacrifice?
I don’t know what the solution is. It’s complex and multipronged. Are guns the entire issue? No. Are they part of it? I don’t see how they can not be. They are crying out for us to do anything to keep them safe. We ignore them, placate them or dismiss them. When are we going to listen? They’re asking for peace; why are we giving them more bullets?