Yesterday, America experience another mass murder, this time in a high school in Broward County, Florida. Once again, the American people are left wondering why. Those on the far left who oppose all guns are, once again, calling for their removal. Those on the far right, who want everyone to carry a gun, are citing the Constitution. Once again, politicians are sending thoughts and prayers. Once again, a disturbed young man, who everyone knew was dangerously mentally ill, was able to arm himself and destroy lives. And it’s our fault.
It’s our fault because we, as a nation, have decided that there is no middle ground or compromise. It’s our fault because we have voted for politicians who do nothing about lobbies like the NRA and their big money, because those very same lobbies line the pockets of our elected officials. It’s our fault because we refuse to accept a very important fact about America – we thrive on violence. All of these children – all of these adults – all of these families and communities – are suffering, and it’s our fault.
Why? America has always been a place that believed in the right to bear arms, but only in the last couple of decades have some on the lunatic fringe decided that this right should have no controls. For those of you whose mission it is to ban guns, just stop – it won’t happen. For those of you who don’t want any restrictions or intense background checks for gun ownership, may God have mercy on your souls – you are to blame the most. Stop telling me about laws and inanimate objects and individual responsibility, and start admitting that we are one of the most violence-prone nations in the world. We like our right to violence, and we don’t want anyone to tell us otherwise. We allow children, women, and minorities to be brutalized daily, and we do little to stop it. We love our guns and violence so much that now we are seeing an attempt to allow open carry across state lines, a process that will only lead to more misunderstandings and bloodshed and brutality.
Meanwhile, our president continues to try to roll back anything done before, including loosening rules about mentally ill people owning guns legally. I do not in any way want to demonize those who struggle with mental illness – it is not their fault, and we need to care for them so they can be healthy. But we can’t arm them! We need to have gun registration and control of ammunition. We need to make it extremely difficult to turn a gun in to an automatic weapon. We need to address the sad truth that it is men and boys who are creating this mayhem. But we won’t – and it will be our fault.
As a Christian, I believe in warm thoughts and caring prayers, but I also believe in following those thoughts and prayers with action. I do not believe we should or can ban guns and ammunition, but I do believe that we need to control the manufacturing and distribution of them. I support the police when they defend themselves and others from people with guns, and I also think its important for them to use discretion in that defense. I believe it is my job as a citizen to defend the Constitution against dangers, both here and abroad. The extremes in this country are endangering our democracy, and we are doing nothing about it.
One more thing. It is our fault because, too often, we keep quiet when we see someone in trouble. From early reports, we are learning that the pain, suffering, and illness of the shooter in Florida was obvious to everyone who knew him. Knowing his situation, and knowing that he posted himself with guns on social media, how is it that this was not addressed? Was it because nobody wanted to rat him out? Was it because everyone feared his vengeance? Regardless, there are many people to blame – and we may not be any different.
It is obvious to me that nothing will change unless the sane among us do something. If we don’t rein in our American addiction to guns and violence, there will be more shootings and more deaths and more mayhem. And it will be our fault.
Pastor Steve Ohnsman has served Calvary United Church of Christ in Reading, PA, since 1999. He has a B.A. in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH), an M. Div. from Drew Theological Seminary (NJ), and D. Min. from United Theological Seminary (OH), and a Ph.D. from Alvernia University (PA).