In the late 1990s, I was a pastor in Fort Worth, Texas. One Wednesday night, I was outside playing basketball with the youth and a church member pulled up and asked, “Did you hear what happened at the Baptist Church in south Ft. Worth?” We shook our heads. “A deranged man walked into their Wednesday night program and began shooting. There are a number of people dead in their sanctuary.”
I jumped in my car and headed over there. I was able to convince the police that it would be good for me to go in simply because I was a pastor who had dealt with trauma before. What I found was a huge score of people in utter shock. I spent time talking and counseling them. Our church offered up our sanctuary for their Sunday worship but they declined, not wanting the horror of the event to drive them out of their home. I still think about those folks when a mass shooting occurs.
Consider what has happened since that shooting: Columbine (1999); sniper in D.C. leaves 10 dead (2002); Laid off worker kills six in Chicago (20o3); hunter intentionally kills six and wounds two others in Wisconsin (2004); man opens fire in church and kills seven in Wisconsin (2005); a truck driver killed five schoolgirls and seriously wounded six others in a school PA (2006); Virginia Tech, 32 dead, 6 wounded (2007); man kills nine and injures five in shopping mall in Nebraska (2007); woman kills six family members on Christmas Eve in Washington (2007); man released from prison shots eight in Washington (2008); Man dressed as Santa Claus opens fire at a Christmas party and kills eight (2008); laid off worker opens fire driving through town and kills ten (2009); nursing home shooting kills eight in North Carolina (2009); High rise shooting kills nine in California (2009); Civic Center Shooting in New York kills 13 (2009); Fort Hood psychologist kills 13 and wounds 42 (2009); shooting outside grocery kills six and wounds 12 including a congressman (2011), and the Aurora shooter kills 12 and wounds 58 others at the movies in Colorado (2012). And now there is Newtown. All of these were done by folks with automatic weapons (frequently many automatic weapons).
Here is how I see it:
a) We have to recognize we have a major fundamental problem going on in our country. We cannot accept that the cost of freedom is that anyone can get randomly gunned down at anytime, most especially our children. None of us ever know how long our lives will go. We don’t even know how long our children will live. But it is fundamentally irresponsible for us to simply grieve the dead and keep going on and wait for the next massacre.
b) We have to recognize that people have been able to kill en masse ever since we have been born. We also have to recognize that there have been mentally untable people since we were born. Guns, by themselves, are not the problem. And people aren’t any crazier in this generation than in others.
c) I might disagree with Mike Huckabee that “taking God out of Schools” caused the events in Connecticut this week. But if we draw that circle bigger, he is right on target. I worry less about God being taught in school than I do about the absence of God talk, prayers, and Scripture reading in homes and the systematic decrease of young people in houses of worship. I do see a correlation between the decreased spirituality in our nation and the rapid increase of violence.
d) I posted an article by Morgan Freeman who opinioned that the problem wasn’t guns but the near anti-celebrity status we give to mass murderers. He believes they would rather be reviled than forgotten. He might be onto something. Freeman says, “Turn off the news.” That’s not going to happen. But, we as a nation, can report the news differently. Our news media needs to see that they too have a responsibility in helping to shape the discussion and dialog going on in our nation. And he is right on target, we need to remember the victims and hardly ever name the perpetrators. Let the law enforcement community and mental health experts study the perpetrators. Let’s stop plastering their names and stories everywhere.
e) Yes, our founding fathers put in the constitution that we have the right to bear arms. And I believe we do. But we have guns in our day that they could not have imagined (I believe it would have taken 90 second to reload a single shot back then). And I doubt if you asked our founding fathers if that includes arming the insane if they would agree. We regulate all kinds of things in our society for public safety. The idea that the right to bear arms means it needs to be as unregulated as possible is part of the problem. There should have been a discussion at some point with the killer’s mom in CT about whether it was wise to be an avid gun collector (with apparently no locks on any of her gun cases) if she had a child suffering from mental illness.
f) We MUST find a way to publically fund mental health care. In our quest to balance budgets, beginning about twenty years ago, we started depolulating our mental health facilities. Mental health care today is much like eating healthy today – it is only for people who can afford it. We have to change this.
The old saying is that one thing that is really crazy is continuing to do the same thing over and expect a different result. If we continue to think the status quo right now is “normal”, if we continue to make believe our generation is bascially the same as our parent’s and grandparent’s generations, if we continue to despiritualize our lives, if we continue to hold unregualted gun ownership for everyone as a sacred right where no rules must apply, and if we continue not to fund public mental health care for anyone who needs it – only then are we as a society acting crazy.
Hopefully as we mourn each life lost in Connecticut, and so many other places, it will spur us to strengthen our society for the better.
What do you think?
Until next time,