How Many Mass Shootings Are Enough?
According to the New York Times, there have been 555 mass shootings in the U.S. in the past 511 days.
Rev. Tim Blodgett and Rev. Sharon Risher
I began writing this blog on Friday, Nov. 3 about Rev. Sharon Risher’s presentation about hate, racism and gun violence. You may recall that Rev. Risher lost her mother, two cousins and a childhood friend when white supremacist Dylann Roof opened fire during a prayer meeting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, 2015. She spoke at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Brookside at the invitation of Southminster’s pastor, Tim Blogdett, a friend of Rev. Risher’s. As I began to write, I couldn’t get my words to make sense. I felt sad and angry. I couldn’t finish because, I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to spend my Friday thinking about people dying in senseless mass shootings. It felt hopeless.
Now, just two days later, 26 more people have been murdered in a mass shooting in Texas. I’ve had three people I know touched by gun violence. Touched by gun violence sounds so innocuous – people are touched by angels. Or the hand of God. Not by violence. Gun violence shatters people’s lives, tears them apart, wrenches open a wound in their hearts never to close again.
Last Thursday night Rev. Sharon Risher spoke about that wound in her heart. She stood in the pulpit at Southminster and told us about becoming an “accidental advocate” against gun violence, racism and hate. She spoke through tears, recalling the day that Dylann Roof, hardly more than a boy, was welcomed into the church’s Bible study circle, seated near the pastor, and then, after sharing an hour with them, opened fire, killing nine people.
“How could this young man have so much hate in his heart?” asked Rev. Risher. “Gun violence takes a toll on families and communities. It’s not something you see on TV and wish it would never happen to you.”
Rev. Risher shared stories about her mother, a “woman of great faith.” She admitted that the journey to sincere forgiveness has been hard and slow, and encouraged others who have suffered to give themselves enough time to find a place of peace.
“Prayers and vigils are not enough,” Rev. Risher said. “Thoughts and prayers are a bunch of empty words.”
Having no use for empty words, Rev. Risher has taken action to advocate for change in gun laws, joining forces with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. The organization, founded by Shannon Watts in 2012 in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, has chapters in every state, including Oklahoma. The organization supports the 2nd Amendment but works to enact common-sense solutions to decreasing gun violence.
One such action was closing the “Charleston loophole” that allowed Roof to purchase a gun, even though his background check was denied.
“I didn’t ask for this journey I’m on,” Rev. Risher said. “Eight kids die every day from guns. Ninety-three Americans are killed with guns every day. Our clergy’s role is to give information to people about issues of justice, issues of love and care – to lay it out in terms that they can understand. We forfeit any right to say we are followers of Christ when our brothers and sisters are dying.”
Several members of Moms Demand Action were in attendance Thursday night. Kay Malan, an Australian, said she has four grandsons, two in the United States and two in Australia. “I’m glad that two of them are in Australia because Australia has done something about gun violence.”
The group lobbies the Oklahoma Legislature for commonsense gun laws and works to find common ground, such as keeping children safe from guns. Moms Demand Action promotes the Be Smart Campaign to educate people about gun safety. You can find more information at momsdemandaction.org.
If you talk to your kids’ friends’ parents about whether or not they smoke, or have a pool or have a cat that your child might be allergic to, you should also be talking to them about whether or not they own guns and how they’re stored. (http://www.tulsakids.com/February-2016/Gun-Safety-at-Home/)
Personally, I’m a little tired of hearing about “soft targets” and “bad guys with guns need to be met with good guys with guns.” Let’s face it, when almost anyone at any time can get a gun, including an assault rifle, everyone is a soft target. People at church, kids in school, people at a theater, people at concerts, people in a grocery store or a mall. Even military bases are “soft targets.” So, let’s quit using that phrase. It implies, wrongly, that if we could just have enough armed security to protect ourselves that we could end the mass shootings. And “good guys with guns” can very quickly become “bad guys with guns.” Who among us is so pure that we are without a dark side? Being human means that any one of us is capable of horrible things. Half the reality shows on TV right now are about people who “were just fine” until they weren’t. And “good guys (and girls)” get drunk. They have arguments. They get into heated domestic situations where their brains don’t function properly. And then there are those with untreated or undiagnosed mental health issues. Sure, the U.S. needs better understanding of mental illness and better access to help, so let’s expand that, but let’s also have a conversation about guns.
The New York Times did a graphic titled “511 Days. 555 Mass Shootings. Zero Action from Congress” showing the mass shootings in the United States since June 12, 2016. Mass shooting is defined as four or more people injured or killed in a single event at the same time and location. Take a look at the graphic. It’s shocking. Or it should be. I hope we haven’t become so anesthetized to the violence that it no longer affects us. In July 2016 there were only 10 days that did NOT have a mass shooting. In fact, every month has more days where there are mass shootings than not. November 2017 has already had three mass shootings and we’re only six days in!
At the beginning of this blog, I said that gun violence had hit a little close to home for me. I have a friend whose beautiful son died by suicide. He used a gun. My friend Victoria Jabara’s brother was gunned down on the front porch of his parents’ house in south Tulsa. And, while this can’t be compared to the death of a person, my daughter’s beloved dog was shot and killed in a family neighborhood in Austin. I sometimes think about what might have happened if my daughter, who was out searching for her dog, had been right behind her and the man had missed. Or if he had hit a child, maybe his own son, who was in the house where a loaded gun was so easily accessible – accessible enough to kill a dog running across a yard.
What’s next? How many days in Nov. will be blacked out with a mass shooting? And December? And 2018?