The shooting earlier today in Orlando was horrible. The story will monopolize the news in the coming days and we will learn more than we ever wanted to know about the suspected shooter, his motivation, and his struggles. We will learn about victims. Some will resonate with us. They will become human and we will cry specifically for each life the shooter took. Each victim has ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God’ (Magee).
People heard the news at different times. My phone flashed “Deadliest Mass Shooting in U.S. History Leaves 50 Dead in Orlando Gay Nightclub.” The sheer magnitude of this shooting is different than other mass shootings. Fifty people. Compared to Hiroshima in August of 1945, fifty is paltry. Compared to the number of refugees who have died fleeing myriad issues in the Mediterranean, fifty is not terribly noteworthy. Compared to the terrorist attacks on 9/11, fifty does not represent a large number.
However, this is the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. We did not need to set this record today. We have the tools. We have viable solutions. We could respond to the crisis of repeated mass shootings. Yet, we, as a nation, respond to the devastation of mass shootings with little more than prayer and heartfelt grief. Offering prayers for the families, and then doing nothing is heartless. Religious leaders encourage prayers. The President delivered a statement. Political candidates respond. Tom Brokaw seems to be one of the few people to suggest starting a dialogue about guns.
All of the prayers are wonderful. Prayer can change people. Søren Kierkegaard is credited as having said, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” But, do our prayers change our nature? Or, will we return to business as usual within a few news cycles? Based on a decade of following mass shootings, my experience suggests that Brokaw’s call to start a dialogue will yield little results. We will return to normal life soon after the people of Orlando bury the last of the fifty dead people.
Why do we lack the capacity to change? Why can we as a nation not treat gun violence the same way we treat other causes of death? My call for dialogue is not an attack on firearms; instead, it is an invitation to reevaluate the issue. If people can have honest dialogue, they might start hearing one another. Gun rights advocates probably do not want to see more massacres. They might have ideas about how to stop them. Our challenge is to have a conversation without letting it digress into a heated, polemical, political, or violent spat.
I freely admit my biases: hunting rifles and shotguns make sense, but handguns and assault weapons belong in the trained hands of law enforcement officers and the military. If a person wants to shoot an assault rifle, the person can join the Army. This is my point of departure, but I would hope that I am not intractable in my feelings.
Recently, I saw the following picture on Pinterest:
To me, the weapon does matter. The shooters in Orlando or Newtown or so many other places would have had more trouble killing as many people if (a) they could not get access to a gun, in the first place, or (b) they had to carry in a hunting rifle or shotgun. Am I proposing something specific? No. I want to learn more, and I want to hear from others, especially people who disagree with me.
Will I pray? Yes. I will pray for God’s comfort for the people who have lost a loved one. I will pray for the perpetrator and his family. Most importantly, I will pray for the conversation about why this keeps happening. I will pray for the elected officials, that God will give them the confidence and courage to address this issue. I will pray for future perpetrators—the ones only God knows about—that they get the help they need and never become a mass shooter.
Let us pray for change.