I am weary of writing pastoral letters in response to mass shootings. Bone- and soul-weary. And I suspect that you, too, are weary of receiving such letters.
Over the years, I’ve written such letters in response to the Blacksburg college shootings, the massacre of first-graders at Newtown, and the vile executions of those enjoying a night on the town at Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub.
I am weary. Bone- and soul-weary. But not as weary as I would have been if I had written such letters after every one of the 273 mass shootings so far this year, or the 483 mass shootings in 2016, or the 372 mass shootings in 2015, and on and on and on. Linger on those numbers for a moment — even if they are almost literally unimaginable. Except they’re not, are they?
I am weary. Bone- and soul-weary. And you are likely just as weary. But none of us are as weary, as devastated, as bereaved as the literally thousands of victims of those shootings and their friends and families, not as weary, as devastated, as bereaved as a child murdered in a crib or a mother taken from her children or a man who will never walk again because we as a nation, as a people, will not confess that we have failed in the most basic test that Jesus offered: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We have not protected that grieving mother, that bereft spouse, that dead toddler in the way that we would want those whom we love protected and safe from the depredations of our unwillingness as a people to face and rationally deal with the greatest public health crisis of our day.
I am weary. Bone- and soul-weary of the easy availability of assault weaponry — that has no place outside of war — which kills our police officers and make their jobs infinitely more difficult, of a sick surfeit of the kind of guns that have no legitimate civilian use, of it being harder to get a building permit to erect a fence or get a driver’s license or than it is to purchase a weapon of mass destruction.
Please understand: I am not “anti-gun.” Most of the hunters I have known feed their families on the meat that they obtain through hunting and respect the enormous privilege they have of carrying a deadly weapon. I have fond memories of bonding with my father when he first showed me how to fire a shotgun when I was a teenager and we were visiting a friend’s ranch, or when my brothers and my dad and I spent long-ago afternoons plinking at soda cans with an air rifle, or when my brother-in-law took me skeet shooting. I like to shoot and though it has been awhile since I have done so, I would happily do so again sometime with someone who could re-teach me what I need to know about gun safety.
But in none of those cases was a semi-automatic weapon necessary. Nor was a high-capacity clip. Nor was ammunition that was designed solely to shred the human body or punch through brick and mortar. Now, please hear me: I am not advocating, as the slur so often goes, “taking your guns away.” Frankly, there are very few people that take that position and those who would inflame you to think so are offering damnable lies. My own theological understanding is that we live in an imperfect world and, short of the Kingdom that is promised, we will sometimes have to use instruments of violence to protect the innocent. But that reality is never, ever a justification for not doing everything that we can to make sure that how and to whom the instruments of violence are available honors what we know about what will keep the most people safe.
Because that, my friends, is precisely what the issue is: safety. We are in the midst, as I say, of a public health crisis. The good news is that Americans have typically been very good at addressing and ameliorating public health crises — polio no longer threatens with each new summer and AIDS is not an immediate death sentence. My plea is simply this: that we would use our knowledge and experience to address this crisis as a public health emergency, for I am convinced that we would have far fewer such shootings when reasonable precautions are put in place for the kinds of weaponry and ammunition that are available. We know how to do this. We do. What we have lacked is the will and the respect for our fellow countrymen and -women to make it happen.
And as Christians, my plea is that we follow Jesus’ example of always, always seeking to protect the vulnerable. After all, He is the One who said it was better to be dropped into the sea tied to a millstone than to harm a child. There is far, far too much harm afoot these days, harm that could be avoided even if short of the Kingdom there will still be evil that occurs. But we can do better. There are those that say if someone’s heart and intent is evil, he or she will find a way to act on that intent and will find a weapon to do so. That is likely true. But let us not lose nuance here: had the Las Vegas gunman been armed with throwing knives instead of — as the police are now reporting — both semi- and fully automatic weapons, a huge portion of those 500+ dead and injured would still be alive and well.
I’m weary, bone- and soul-weary. Our Lord and Savior invites me and all to “Come, all you are weary.” But then, then, He says go back into the world to love, to care, to protect the vulnerable.
We can do that so much better than we have done. We can.