I am sitting in a cozy café in Washington, D.C. Seated at the table beside me are two elementary school age children and an older teenage sibling, maybe a babysitter. Proximity prevents any truly private conversations, hence I overhear them planning the rest of their day. The little girl says flatly: “I don’t want to go to the mall. There’s more likely to be a shooter there.” The teenager in charge offers no argument to counter the girl’s fear. How could she, really? This exchange took place mere days after the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings. Regardless of the statistical reality of the rarity of these horrendous events, the possibility of such violence is obvious, even – or maybe especially – to our children.
Active shooter drills punctuate the school year no less than fire drills and pep rallies. A police presence in our schools is no longer exceptional. It is expected. Teachers are tasked with not only educating our kids, but protecting them from potentially deadly harm, too.
The young girl wearing colorful plastic bracelets and nibbling on her French pastry continues to make her case for avoiding open, public, crowded spaces. She tells of a friend who experienced the threat of an active shooter. The mere fact that this child peppers her conversation with the phrase “active shooter” reveals much about our current state of affairs. I ask you: Was this a designation familiar to you in first grade? Middle school? High school? Of all my childhood and adolescent anxieties, an active shooter in my school was not among them.
We need to also recognize the reality that for countless children in many communities across our country, the threat of gun violence is daily and relentless — not episodic and headline grabbing. As I write this, seven children under the age of 17 have been killed by gunfire this year in St. Louis alone. In Chicago, over the past 365 days, 297 people have been shot and died. The Chicago Tribune lists the dates and times of their deaths, their gender and their names and ages when known. Scrolling through the list is haunting: 19-year-old male, 16-year-old male, 17-year-old male, male age unknown, 19-year-old female, 15-year-old male, 15-year-old male. The sheer size of the list reveals much about our current state of affairs. Each person, named and nameless, represents a son, a brother, a daughter, a parent, a person known and loved by God. Each person’s death impacts all of those in his or her circle, now bereaved and traumatized.
We are better than this.
I recognize the problem of gun violence – like all human problems – is complex, challenging and not readily made right. I also recognize, however, that the scourge of gun violence is not intractable, inevitable or unresolvable. Actions, however imperfect, must be taken. I heard a commentator espouse that a certain firearm should not be regulated because it is very “popular.” Perhaps. However, our standard of behavior as Christians has nothing to do with popularity and everything to do with faithfulness. As we wrestle with what actions to take to stem the tide of gun violence, we should be prayerfully asking: What does our loyalty to and love of Jesus Christ require?
Further, we are to look to the interest of others, particularly the vulnerable and those unable to fully advocate for themselves. I would suggest such a litmus test brings to the foreground of our concerns the children living in fear of being shot, wherever they live.
Yes, the problem is complicated. No, it is not impossible to solve. Certainly, we must do better. Surely, we want to do better. No doubt, God calls us to be better. Healing change will accelerate when disciples of Jesus Christ consider what the Prince of Peace, the one who welcomed little children, the teacher who told Peter to put away the sword, the Savior who died a violent death with forgiveness on his lips, requires of us, his followers. I do not think Jesus cares about the politics of guns. I am confident, however, that he cares deeply about the people caught in the crossfire of them.
We are better than this, aren’t we?
Grace and peace,