The Charleston Massacre: Keep Your "Thoughts and Prayers." Your Ideas and Actions Are What's Needed

06/22/2015 07:29 pm ET | Updated Jun 22, 2016
Amanda Rohde via Getty Images

Again and again and again and again...

People who shouldn't have guns slaughter people who did nothing to deserve their horrific fates. Motives, mental health status, and other details change, but some things stay maddeningly the same.

The gun control crowd sees an opportunity to grab attention and focus support for limiting access to deadly firepower. The gun worshipping cult, philosophically unmoved by the slaughter of innocents, is unyielding and unapologetic because, you know the story, "guns don't kill people... blah, blah, blah."

The standard script also includes law enforcement officials, politicians, and advocacy groups applying the "hate crime" designation as if it will somehow mean that justice will be better served. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has already invoked the death penalty. We can now shift our focus to collective revenge at a time when individual grieving has barely begun. Jon Stewart takes the night off from joking about current events, because it's difficult to find funny in the headlines when the wounds are so fresh.

And then the king of all public mantras is offered from far and wide to all of you experiencing the loss of life up close and personal, don't despair, because, "Our thoughts and prayers are with you."

Of all the knee jerk and predictable responses to another round of horrific (and in this case, racially-motivated) gun violence, this may be the worst of all... because of the inaction that follows.

I've offered my "thoughts and prayers."

Mission accomplished.


You see it on the micro and macro level. It's not as if those offering the too often empty refrain lack compassion or don't mean well. Sometimes we simply don't know what to say when nightmares become real. The problem is that we say it and move on as if we've done our part. We have nothing to offer other than "our thoughts and prayers" and so we drop them off and move on. What, me worry? Jurassic World and a tub of popcorn the size of a T-Rex awaits.

Maybe I'm being too harsh, but I've seen this pattern before. We attend concerts with the proceeds benefiting reducing world hunger and we've done our part. Slap a bumper sticker on our gas guzzling car and we've contributed to the cause, whatever that cause may be. Post something on Facebook or Twitter and you are now an activist. You may even tweet your "thoughts and prayers" to those in need.

Here's the problem. We're all filled with outrage from a variety of ideological, political, cultural, and emotional perspectives, and we've offered our thoughts and prayers, but in spite of it all things aren't changing. Or they certainly didn't change fast enough to save those gunned down at their Bible study class in Charleston.

Isn't it past time that we, the sleeping giant majority, replaced "our thoughts and prayers" with our ideas and actions in town halls and in the voting booth? Those protecting the status quo are always motivated and have plenty of resources with which to protect their plenty of resources. The NRA may also be offering its "thoughts and prayers," but its lobbying efforts are offering a heck of a lot more to influence the national debate and subsequent public policy outcomes with which we'll all live and die. But I suspect, and opinion polls will support the notion, that there are more of us than there are of them. You can't blame them for vigorously fighting for their point of view. We can blame ourselves for standing idly by. Change won't come quickly enough in the "world's greatest democracy" if more than half of us won't even vote in most elections.

We kill each other with guns at an alarming rate. We're number one! And while we most certainly have made progress from the days when we could actually own another human being in the land of the free and the home of the brave, racism continues to fester like a cancer that holds us back from being as good as we could be if we had the courage to face the disease head on.

Those who desperately want to avoid talking about race, which seems to be a very large percentage of Americans, twist logic and reason into linguistic pretzels in an attempt to avoid a discussion that's long overdue. And while public opinion polls show that we want to try new things in the effort to curb gun violence, that desire is not reflected in the votes of our elected officials.

There's nothing we can do to bring back the dead, but there are things we can do to prevent future slaughters. Who will lead a serious national discussion on race that will not yield in the face of those in denial? And if some are willing to lead, are we willing to follow?

When will the will of the majority be heard in the gun debate, resulting in laws and measures that make it less easy for nuts and haters to bear arms while protecting the rights of the responsible and law-abiding to do so? Are you willing to be inconvenienced at the gun show in order to save lives? We seem willing to compromise certain freedoms to thwart terrorists from foreign lands, are we willing to do the same to combat home-grown terror?

I don't know how long it will take, but I think we can agree that we can do better... much better... than we've done so far. Are you planning to be part of the problem or part of the solution? There is no neutral position. And it's going to take a lot more than "our thoughts and prayers" to get the job done.