This weekend, I reflected on the shooting at the Fort Hood, Texas, military base. Another horrific shooting spree with many killed and wounded, followed the next day by a gunman in Orlando shooting up people in an office building. Remember Columbine? Virginia Tech? Northern Illinois University? And the list goes on. Within just a few minutes, lives lost and lives changed by injuries and trauma. Not just the victims, but their families and friends, changed forever.
Not to mention the shootings that occur when gangs and other angry people inadvertently take the lives of bystanders and other unrelated victims. In Chicago, barely a week goes by without a headline about the shooting of some young man or woman who was by chance in the line of fire or a victim of mistaken identity. Gun violence in a city this large is a constant reality.
I come from a family of people who own firearms. I have a sibling who belongs to a gun club and goes to a shooting range regularly. He served in the military and is a good shot; in competitions at his club, he has won numerous Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas hams. But he has no history of serious emotional problems or mental illness. He’s a great guy–caring, smart, and responsible, always. He enjoys shooting as a skill and a challenge, a game that gets him out of himself, sort of the way I use computer solitaire. I don’t hate gun owners, please understand.
But when guns are in the hands of people of who are emotionally or mentally unwell, the consequences are dire. Tragic. Destructive. To the people directly affected, yes, but also to the nation’s psyche. We start to feel besieged. Many of the people I know never feel truly safe. I live in a big city and take public transit. When I see someone acting in a strange way on the train platform, I worry–will I be an unintended casualty?
As people of faith, what can we do about this escalating gun violence? Can we become involved in our communities and in the lives of the young people who are so often the victims and perpetrators of these crimes?
It may seem hopeless, but what’s the alternative? To barricade ourselves in our homes? What do you think? How should people of faith respond?
Kate Sprutta Elliott is editor of Lutheran Woman Today magazine.