I don’t want prayers. I don’t want thoughts. I want gun control. And I hope to God nobody sends me any more prayers. No more guns.
That agonizing lament burst forth in a torrent of grief and rage from Susan Orfanos when she learned that her son, Telemachus (“Tel”) Orfanos, a Navy veteran, age 27, was one of 12 people gunned down on Nov. 7 at Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California. The shooter, a 28-year-old ex-marine with a Glock .45 caliber handgun, committed the 307th mass shooting in the first 311 days of 2018.*
As if Ms. Orfanos’ sorrow was not unbearable enough, Americans learned that Tel Orfanos had already experienced the pre-existing condition of our shared culture of firearm violence. About 18 months earlier, on Oct. 1, 2017, he had escaped the massacre of 58 individuals at a country western concert in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting (so far) in American history. Hundreds of people were injured by a middle-aged white male armed to the teeth and perched in a sniper’s position from a hotel near the event. In today’s United States of America, surviving one mass shooter does not mean another won’t find you.
“In today’s United States of America, surviving one mass shooter does not mean another won’t find you.”
Wednesday nights are college nights at the Borderline, with large crowds, country western music, line dancing and cheap beer. The youngest victim was a 19-year-old woman from nearby Pepperdine University. Another 19-year-old college student, Lara Edwards, was among the survivors. She told the New York Times: “This was my place, where you could decompress, after a hard week and be care free. Almost everyone was a student or recent graduate.” She added: “Gun control should be taken a hell of a lot more seriously. It should have happened after Columbine (1999), it should have happened after Sandy Hook (2012). I’ve never done anything about it myself, but obviously I feel a lot more strongly now. It gives you a whole new motivation, to fight for ourselves and the people who were killed.”
To fight for ourselves and the people who were killed . . . I don’t want prayers. I want gun control. Out of the mouths of distraught mothers and 19-year-old survivors. But who’s listening? If history is any indication, little or nothing will change in the land of the free and the home of the targeted. Implicitly or explicitly, firearm violence defines us as a people in the year of our Lord 2018.
Firearm violence can snuff out your life in elementary school or high school or college. It can waste you while you’re worshipping at an Anglo Baptist church in Texas, an African-American Methodist church in South Carolina, or a synagogue in Pennsylvania. Firearms can kill you at concerts, bars, night clubs, workplaces and Yoga classes. Our culture has a pre-existing firearm condition that contributes to the death of over 33,000 persons annually.
“Implicitly or explicitly, firearm violence defines us as a people.”
According to the online resource, Investopedia.com, “Under the ‘objective standard’ definition, a pre-existing condition is any condition for which the patient has already received medical advice or treatment prior to enrollment in a new medical insurance plan. Under the broader, ‘prudent person’ definition, a pre-existing condition is anything for which symptoms were present, and a prudent person would have sought treatment. Pre-existing conditions can include serious illnesses, such as cancer, less serious conditions, such as a broken leg, and even prescription drugs.”
Firearm violence is our national pre-existing condition. We’ve all received direct or indirect “medical advice and treatment” for it. As “prudent persons” we know “symptoms were present” all around us.” We know it, yet the carnage continues. As a society we seem unable to escape the inevitability of such violence, in part because the country is awash in guns, easily available, legally or illegally, for those who can wreak deadly havoc anytime, anywhere.
Likewise, efforts to extend gun laws are ever resisted by those who charge that Second Amendment rights are inviolable. On Nov. 7, the day of the Thousand Oaks shooting, the National Rifle Association posted this on Twitter: “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane.” Dr. Marianne Haughey, a veteran of Bronx, New York, emergency rooms, responded: “I see no one from the @nra next to me in the trauma bay as I have cared for victims of gun violence for the last 25 years. THAT must be my lane. COME INTO MY LANE. Tell one mother her child is dead with me. Then we can talk.”
“Our culture has a pre-existing firearm condition that contributes to the death of over 33,000 persons annually.”
After a series of articles on firearm violence was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the editor, Dr. Christine Laine, wrote that the journal “is not anti-gun; we are anti-bullet holes in people.” And perhaps that’s where we need to begin, not with the Second Amendment, but with the reality that the U.S., like no other western country, is plagued by the pre-existent condition of firearm violence and resulting deaths. Is all this dying simply collateral damage for our inability to deal with the overwhelming number of firearms in our midst?
Firearm violence in this country is more than a national problem; it a national disgrace that increasingly defines our national identity, our common humanity and our “witness” in the world. It has turned our schools into prisons where the supposed joy of learning competes with an abiding fear of life-threatening invasion. It has enabled a minority of troubled people to release their demons on innocent victims at almost every level of our national life.
Surely future generations will hold us accountable, but that is no consolation to the dead and those who love them. Other societies have acted to end or at least minimize the violence. Until Americans find ways to do that, our dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, once so dear, will continue to elude us.
Given the immediate proliferation and culture of firearms and firearm violence, perhaps our only hope is to set in motion certain actions in our laws, our society and ourselves that will ultimately take effect, ending the carnage somewhere in the distant future. Historically, plagues take a long time to extinguish.
For people of faith, the pre-existent condition of our firearm-obsessed culture remains a spiritual crisis of epidemic proportions. But before we offer “thoughts and prayers” too quickly, we’d best learn to act on the grief and rage of the mothers of the dead in the killing fields of the American Republic.
* The Washington Post editorial board published the names of each person who has died in a mass shooting thus far in 2018.