At the one week anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the church bells toll across the country, and the media satellite trucks slowly leave Newtown. Where will they go next? Will we as a nation continue to focus our attention on the epidemic of gun violence or has our addiction to violence grown so serious that we cannot even recognize it?
President Obama spoke compassionately and eloquently at the Interfaith Service last Sunday and again to the Washington press on Wednesday.
An impertinent reporter's question made the evening news. What did not make the news were the president's words that in the 5 days following the massacre, people had died from gun violence all over this land: a police officer gunned down in Memphis leaving four children without their mother; two killed in Topeka; three people shot inside a hospital in Alabama; and a 4-year-old victim of a drive-by shooting in Missouri. "Where have you been?" we should ask ourselves. Where have the cameras gone since Newtown?
The memorials have been helpful for a grieving nation. Here in our town our church held a prayer service open to the public and all sorts of people, previously strangers to one another, came. The nation has learned how to bring candles and teddy bears to memorials. What else can we do well together?
PBS NewsHour shows in silence at the end of broadcasts the names and pictures, as "they became of available," of military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. This week they showed in silence the names and pictures of those killed at Sandy Hook School. What would it mean if every week they showed the names and pictures, as they became available, of those killed by gun violence in this nation?
Where will the cameras go to help us to not forget, to help us recognize our own addition to gun violence and to give us the courage to act?
To South Chicago? To Midwestern smaller cities? To the mountain states? Everywhere!
I've listened this week to stereotypes of "other" parts of the country. "Rural," to some, implies people who love having guns. "Urban" or "Inner City" implies "dangerous," non-white. And yet the mass shootings at schools have as often been by white males in suburban or ex-urban settings.
Our family lived for nine years in an inner city area in Connecticut, our children attending a community school. The school was at that time "legally condemned" which meant they did not have to provide a safe playground or music, the arts, physical education, etc. So we in the neighborhood worked together to provide these things for everyone's children. While schools and school safety has increased in some places since then, the gap between the rich and the poor has intensified. Do you "move to a safe place where there are 'good' schools"? We've learned that gun violence happens everywhere. And we need good, safe community schools for everyone's children wherever they live. President Obama has continued to say, "all children."
It will take all of us, President Obama said, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, law enforcement officers, mental health workers, pastors, gun owners, all of us. It will take courage. What images have we seen? Yes, we are told we see "guns flying off the shelves" at Walmart. But I've also heard of buy-backs going on all across the country: a city in New Jersey; a small town in Illinois; local neighborhoods; even churches and stores. Thousands of guns have willingly been turned in. Will news cameras show us this?
We have to believe that this nation that has 5 percent of the world's population and 50 percent of the guns can change if we want to be an example in the world. We have to believe that we can cure ourselves from the epidemic of gun violence that plagues this country. And we can start, as President Obama said, with what the majority of Americans want, banning the sale of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips. He called on Congress to confirm the appointment of a director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, something they have refused to do for six years.
Or we could go the other direction, buying bulletproof backpacks for our children, arming teachers. Foolish! The epidemic grows. Fear begets fear.
Guns beget guns.
And ads for semi-automatic weapons to the contrary, guns don't make men more manly. The power to shoot more and faster does not make one stronger or wiser. Men also beget life. It's not about shooting, but nurturing life. Can we shape communities of compassion and care, claiming together the blessed power of giving and preserving life, all life, everywhere? What will we see?