The massacre in Aurora, Colorado deeply saddens and troubles me. I am very sad for the families who have lost loved ones or had loved ones injured (psychologically as well as physically). Will they ever feel safe in public places again? I am deeply troubled that yet again a deranged young man has wreaked destruction on a crowd of innocent people, and furthermore that there has been an almost universal resignation to the inevitability of this happening. An article in the Boston Globe (July 22) describes the lack of appetite among both Democrats and Republicans for legislative action to restrain the availability of assault weapons of the type used in the Aurora massacre. Americans, it seems, prefer to let everyone have the freedom to own assault weapons rather than attempt to ban them from our society (they were banned from 1994 – 2004). We can ban cigarette smoking in public buildings, but not the carrying of assault weapons. The reason there is no appetite in Congress for any action (despite the attack on Rep. Gabby Giffords a year ago) is because of fear of the NRA, a powerful lobbying group, which works to get rid of restrictions on gun ownership, and which gives 88% of its political donations to Republican lawmakers. The notion has taken hold in Washington that if you cross the NRA you will not get re-elected.
About 30,000 Americans die each year from gunfire (homicides, suicides and accidents). Just days before at least 70 people were shot in Aurora, a gunman sprayed bullets across a crowded bar in Tuscaloosa, Ala. In May, a concealed handgun permit holder opened fire at a cafe in Seattle, killing four. In April, a former nursing student in Oakland, California. sprayed a classroom with bullets, killing seven (Boston Globe Op Ed, Farah Stockman, July 24, 2012).
The resignation to the inevitability of these attacks appalls me. I grew up in a country where injury by a BB gun (in England they call it an air rifle) would be a headline in the local newspaper, and one never heard of violence with guns. Things have not changed greatly since then. In a recent year the total number of people in England killed by gunfire was 298 (www.gunpolicy.org). I grew up watching Westerns at the local cinema and on TV, but I never thought that America was a gun-toting, shoot first and ask questions later type of society. My mind is changing on that score.
Often prophets are voices in the wilderness for many years before their warnings are heeded. I pray that America would heed the prophet’s complaint:
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails. (Habbakuk 1:3-4)
There are at least two contemporary prophets working for tightening of the federal gun laws: the Brady Campaign to prevent gun violence (http://www.bradycampaign.org) and Mayors Against Illegal Guns (http://www.mayorsagainstillegalguns.org) Both are worthy causes. Leaving the issue to individual states (as Senator Scott Brown recommends) produces a hodgepodge of ineffective laws. This is something that must be accomplished at the federal level.
Beyond supporting these efforts and praying for Congress to have courage, there is something we can all do: reject violence in all forms. The young man who committed the act of terror in Aurora seemed unable to distinguish the real world from the celluloid world (he was acting out the role of one of the characters in the Batman series). There has been a mass desensitization to violence through the barrage of graphic images depicted in movies and television and video games. At the same time the public is not allowed to see the caskets of American soldiers killed overseas. As a nation we are complicit in a mass cover-up of the devastating effects of violence and death. Few except those directly affected get upset emotionally by these deaths. What is the matter with us as a nation? St. Augustine said the twin daughters of anger are courage and hope. Where are courage and hope in this matter of restraining the lunacy of guns for all? Sympathy for the bereaved is not enough by itself. The dead demand a much greater response: a rejection of violence in all its forms, by banning assault weapons, by greatly reducing the level of violence in the media, and by societal disapproval of rude speech and behavior. Men and women need to learn that underneath all the anger and frustration in our society is a vast reservoir of sadness and disappointment, stemming from the denial of what is. Only when we are honest and express our sadness in tears, will we resolve the epidemic of violence that plagues our times.