There was another shooting last week.
There isn’t anything remarkable about that. I didn’t even know about it. Except this one occurred in a church, during a worship service, when one parishioner became “verbally abusive and agitated” when another member told him he was sitting in a reserved seat. A commotion ensued and another member came, flashed a concealed weapons permit, showed his gun and then, as the altercation became physical fired two shots killing the victim.
Another shooting. In a church.
Perhaps what is remarkable is that this incident isn’t remarkable. Another shooting, even in a church, doesn’t really catch our attention anymore. It isn’t like last year when Dylan Roof walked into Emanuel AME Church in our city and killed nine individuals and wounded several more. For weeks the national media camped out on Calhoun Street. President Obama came to speak. Governor Nikki Haley quietly attended every funeral.
Nine people killed in a church.
That made news.
One killed during a worship service received little attention outside the local media.
It has become so commonplace. Another shooting. Another death at the hands of guns. There isn’t anything new. The media might as well report that the tide came in again today. We have become numb to the prevalence of gun violence in our nation. We are shocked and moved to pray for the victims whenever we hear of a mass shooting — at Virginia Tech, at Sandy Hook Elementary, at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, at a church in Charleston, S.C. Those get our attention — for a while. But then we move on — to the ballgame, to the prom, to the election. Just another shooting doesn’t get that much of our attention.
But do you know that every day on average in the United States, 48 children and teens are shot in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, unintentional shootings and police intervention. Every day!
Every day, seven children and teens die from gun violence — five are murdered, two kill themselves. Every day!
Every day, 41 children and teens are shot and survive.
Every day, 89 people die from gun violence: 89 every day! Thirty-one are murdered, 55 kill themselves, two are killed unintentionally, one is killed by police intervention, one intent unknown.
Those are the facts that we conveniently ignore. They don’t take place in our neighborhood, in our church and so it is easy to think that it happens “there.” We want to ignore those facts because to see them causes us to come face to face with so much pain. Until we can’t, until we choose not to. I recently attended a meeting of survivors of gun violence — family members who have lost someone to a gun — a 23-year-old, a father, a sister. As these individuals stretched across the altar of Mother Emanuel, holding pictures of their loved ones, I was struck by the enormity of the pain. The senseless pain, because in most cases it didn’t have to happen.
Many of these deaths could have been prevented through some small, rational legislation. They could have been prevented by closing the Charleston Loophole — a loophole in background checks that allows a person to purchase a gun after three days even if the background check has not been completed; by allowing the ATF to computerize gun sales which would allow them to identify guns used in crimes, currently forbidden by federal legislation; to extend the Brady background check to all gun sales, including those over the Internet.
These sensible changes enjoy a majority approval among voters of all political affiliation yet at some point are inevitably opposed by a few who scream out that “they are trying to take away our guns.” Nothing in these adjustments threatens legitimate gun ownership. We are told that all it takes to stop a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun. There have been at least 23 toddler-involved shootings since Jan. 1.
It is true that legislation alone will not stop all these tragedies. Legislation alone won’t make the problem disappear, but it will make a difference. As Martin Luther King Jr. once remarked, “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.”
This is a spiritual issue! We live lives governed by fear — fear of the other, fear of the government, fear of change, fear of intruders, fear of vulnerability. We often forget that most used phrase in the Bible, “Fear not.” Instead we allow our fears to triumph. Our motto is no longer “In God We Trust,” but rather “In Glock We Trust.” We allow our fear of what others might think, our fear of the NRA, to sacrifice another victim.
It is time for those of us in the church to decide whom we will serve — the merchants of fear and violence who are worshipped in our land, or the Prince of Peace. What do we value more, the freedom to buy an assault-style weapon or the lives of 20 elementary students? Which is more treasured, the right to bear arms, or the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
There was another shooting last week. There was another shooting in a church.
One of the 89 killed that day.
I wonder how many it will take before we say, “Enough!”
What is the number?
It wasn’t one at Keystone Fellowship Church.
It wasn’t nine at Emanuel AME Church.
It wasn’t 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary.
It wasn’t 32 at Virginia Tech.
So what is the number that will get your attention, that will make us make a difference?