As you probably know from this Busted Halo video, Advent for many Christians is a time of joyful preparation and longing for Christmas. During this season, we are called to spend time with family, reflect on the blessings we enjoy in our lives, discern how we might help others, and set aside time to find peace during an otherwise hectic and stressful few weeks.
It was within this context, during the second week of Advent, that I read with horror — on Twitter as it happened — that a masked gunman opened fire in a suburban Oregon shopping mall, spreading terror, and ultimately killing two individuals before succumbing to gunfire himself.
Last week, a member of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, Jovan Belcher, shot and killed his girlfriend and then drove to Arrowhead Stadium where he shot himself in the head in front of his coach, another player and the team’s general manager.
Over the summer, a young man wearing full body armor entered a crowded movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. He threw canisters of tear gas into the audience and used several guns to fire indiscriminately into the crowd. Twelve people died and 58 others were injured.
Despite all this, despite the nearly 12,000 individuals killed by guns in the United States, which is guided by the National Rifle Association, an organization that spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year promoting a robust gun culture, gun rights advocates are quick to claim that more guns on the streets make us safer. They claim that families need guns in their homes to protect themselves and that assault weapons must be available for hunting enthusiasts.
But none of this is true.
David Frum at The Daily Beast notes that:
A gun in the house minimally doubles the risk that a household member will kill himself or herself. (Some studies put the increase in suicide risk as high as 10 times.) An American is 50% more likely to be shot dead by his or her own hand than to be shot dead by a criminal assailant. More than 30,000 Americans injure themselves with guns every year.
You might remember that neither President Barack Obama nor his opponent, former Governor Mitt Romney, spoke out about gun violence during their months-long campaign, for fear of offending the powerful NRA and losing votes in crucial swing states.
Iconic sportscaster Bob Costas responded to the tragedy in Kansas City during a segment on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, taking a brief moment to speak out against the craziness that is unbridled gun culture in this country, and quoting Kansas City-based writer Jason Whitlock. He said:
In the coming days, Jovan Belcher’s actions and their possible connection to football will be analyzed. Who knows? But here, wrote Jason Whitlock, is what I believe. If Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.
His comments, predictably, were mocked and ridiculed by gun rights enthusiasts and, who knows, perhaps Belcher would have found another way to commit violence on others and himself, but Costas is right. The United States has gun-related homicide rates nearly 20 times higher than other wealthy nations, with gun-related suicides six times higher and accidental gun deaths five times higher.
Guns are killing Americans, destroying lives and bringing terror to individuals and families every day of the year. Advent, sadly, is no exception.
Reflecting on the shootings in Colorado, the Jesuit writer James Martin wrote a compelling case that gun control is a life issue, like euthanasia and abortion:
These shootings would not have happened if the shooter did not have such easy access to firearms and ammunition. So religious people need to be invited to meditate on the connection between the more traditional “life issues” and the overdue need for stricter gun control. The oft-cited argument, “Guns don’t kill people, people do,” seems unconvincing to me. Of course people kill people; as people also procure abortions, decide on euthanasia and administer the death penalty. Human beings are agents in all these matters. The question is not so much how lives are ended, but how to make it more difficult to end lives.
Speaking out against a violent gun culture is fraught with risk in our society. Even some liberals in the Democratic Party are too afraid to take on powerful interest groups like the NRA. It’s difficult to find any mainstream political leader willing to suggest that gun control should be tightened and enforced, or perhaps even to question if the framers of the Constitution actually envisioned private gun ownership.
But during this season of Advent, when Christians see in the words of Isaiah a peace so immense that “the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,” we continue to find ourselves as a people soaked in violence and anger with apparently little resolve to confront this sad truth. So in addition to our prayers for victims of violence, we should use this time to consider how we might witness to the Gospel and take a stand against a culture that makes obtaining guns, and using them for evil, so easy.
This post concludes my first year writing the Church & State column for Busted Halo®. I’ve enjoyed participating in this vibrant space for spiritual seekers, and I hope you’ve found my writing thoughtful, compelling, and, at times, challenging. If so, I hope you’ll join me in supporting Busted Halo’s® important ministry by offering a financial gift.