Many of us have been watching and reading the haunting news reports coming out of Florida. Another school shooting. One of the worst mass killings in American history. Youths and adults plead once again with the government to enact legislation to protect our children. Gun control and gun rights groups will continue doing battle over the best course of action. Given all the confirmation bias on all sides, one’s views on the subject are easily shot down as soon as they are expressed. Will anything be done? Will we be able to stem the tide of these horrific killings, or are we losing our will and hope?
Our country is not the only one where a large portion of the citizenry have access to guns. According to one report, the U.S. ranks first in terms of the average number of firearms per one hundred people. Yemen comes in second. Switzerland ranks third. (Refer here; for other comparisons, refer here, and here). Perhaps you find this list of the top three surprising (On Switzerland, refer here and here). But do any of us find surprising how frequent these mass killings are? Or have we come to accept them in a fatalistic manner?
If we are to conquer the problem, it won’t be a matter simply of having better security measures in place and being more alert to alarming signals from troubled people in order to stop them from doing harm. We have to address the alienation and fragmentation that is increasing in the U.S. and cultivate a sense that every human life is sacred and of inestimable worth.
Given our increasing tribalism, rampant individualism and objectification of human identity as a base commodity in many contexts, we are in danger as a society of losing complete contact and relational access to one another before too long. Beyond debates over gun control and gun rights, we need to address how to cultivate greater caring access to one another. After all, both issues are addressed in our nation’s founding documents. Gun lobbyists are quick to point out that gun ownership is a long-standing constitutional right. How quick are all of us to point out and live out what our Declaration of Independence states? “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
It is worth noting that the suspect in this latest mass shooting recently lost his mother. His father died when he was much younger. I read one report of how he had been bullied at the school in question. A family in the community took him in because he needed someone. They had not noticed any warning signals of what he might do, or if he was mentally ill, though reportedly others identified troubling dynamics (Refer here).
It is easy to point fingers at those in the community for failing to be alert to imminent dangers, or at the FBI for failing to follow up on a tip. But will each of us lift a finger from the trigger of shooting down one another and our respective arguments and reach out to connect with those who are bullied, isolated, on the other side of the political aisle, on the other side of the gentrified tracks? Yes, we must be alert to warning signals of impending violence and act upon them in a civil and astute way. But we must also be alert to the alienation that rips through our society, be alert to the inviolable worth of every citizen and every human, and shield everyone in our midst with humane dignity, understanding, and care.