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Heartbroken and Speechless — Yet Again

Posted on May 25, 2022

I’m not often at a loss for words, but the events in Uvalde, Texas, yesterday have left me heartbroken and speechless. Just last Wednesday, I shared my reflections on the horrific events in Buffalo and Southern California. Here we are just 10 days later, and once again, our country is reeling.

We must acknowledge today that we live in a broken country. We can wave the flag and celebrate all that makes the United States exceptional (and there is so much). But, when children are routinely murdered in our schools, when families cannot safely shop at our grocery stores, and when our churches and synagogues are periodically marked off with yellow police tape, we can no longer claim to live in a healthy and caring society. The rest of the world looks at us with stunned bewilderment. The only other place where this kind of daily violence occurs is in war zones. We have 120 civilian weapons for every 100 people. The country closest to those numbers is Yemen, with 53 civilian weapons per 100 people, and they are in a terrible civil war. Parents in Australia, Italy, and Japan (and the list goes on) do not talk about active shooter drills with their kids, warily scan the other shoppers in their corner store, or worry when they walk into their houses of worship. Only in the U.S. do we fetishize guns this way. Only in the U.S. do we accept the frequent death of little kids as the “price of liberty.” Only in the U.S. do we numbly register the horror and then go back to whatever we were doing, just sadder, even more numb, and helpless.

It wasn’t always this way, it doesn’t need to be this way, and we can fix it.

I urge you to read this article from Heather Cox Richardson, an American historian, to understand the history of guns in our country. As she points out, the Constitution’s Second Amendment in no way anticipates nor allows the kind of unfettered access to guns that gun zealots, led by the arms industry-funded NRA, would argue. Indeed, as she points out, 74% of NRA members support responsible gun safety, including universal background checks.

I also urge you to watch NBA coach Steve Kerr to hear the voice of outrage we should all share today, no matter our political beliefs or party affiliations. On a visit to the American University of Beirut, I stood at the grave of Malcolm Kerr, Steve Kerr’s father. He was shot dead on the campus he led, and his killers were never apprehended. Steve Kerr’s outrage is rooted in love and loss, not politics.

But we are in this mess because of politics. Political cowardice and avarice, to be more precise. We need common-sense safety measures that balance the rights of gun ownership with the right of a child to be safe at school. The right of a grandmother to safely buy bread and eggs. The right of a family to worship together without nervously scanning the crowd and identifying the exits, just in case. I hope our elected officials will move on H.R.8, a House Bill that supports background checks. Nicholas Kristof’s 2017 article outlines the sensible approaches we can take to gun ownership, protecting the rights of gun owners while dramatically reducing gun deaths. It’s simple: Where sensible gun safety measures are in place, gun deaths are far lower. More guns are not the answer to the problem of too many guns; it’s a little like saying that more pollution is the answer to too much pollution.

I grew up Catholic. In the Sunday service lies a line that barely registered with me as a young person: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son … .” But at the moment that our first child was born, I understood the sheer power of that line, evoking a sacrifice beyond imagination, the giving up of one’s child. In the transformative moment I held my daughter, I realized there was something far more terrible and frightening than my own demise – the fear that my child may perish. Becoming a parent gave me a new “unimaginable.” The parents of 19 children are living the unimaginable this morning. Their lives will not get better, and there is no recovery. This will be the ongoing trauma of a lifetime for those poor parents in Uvalde, as it has been for the families and communities of Buffalo, Parkland, Sandy Hook, Columbine, and so many more.

In moments like these, I often want to find words of solace or reassurance for you. There are not any for me to muster today. There is only the resolve to tame the insanity that is America’s extremism when it comes to guns. Find the voice for the 90% of Americans who want sensible gun safety laws, and demand that politicians find the courage to make sensible middle-ground policy changes. Allow kids to be in school worrying only about scuffed knees, homework, and getting the lead in the school play. Not becoming the lede in yet another heartbreaking newspaper story.

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