Westside Middle School, Jonesboro, Arkansas.
James Parker Middle School, Edinboro, Pennsylvania.
Thurston High School, Springfield, Oregon.
Columbine High School, Littleton, Colorado.
Lake Worth Middle School, Lake Worth, Florida.
Santana High School, Santee, California.
Red Lion Area Senior High School, Red Lion, Pennsylvania.
Ricori High School, Cold Spring, Minnesota.
Red Lake Senior High School, Red Lake, Minnesota.
Campbell County Comprehensive High School, Jacksboro, Tennessee.
Platte Canyon High School, Bailey, Colorado.
Amish School, Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.
Central High School, Knoxville, Tennessee.
Discovery Middle School, Madison, Alabama.
Millard South High School, Omaha, Nebraska.
Chardon High School, Chardon, Ohio.
Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, Connecticut.
Sparks Middle School, Sparks, Nevada.
Arapahoe High School, Centennial, Colorado.
Reynolds High School, Troutdale, Oregon.
Marysville Pilchuck High School, Marysville, Washington.
Townville Elementary School, Townville, South Carolina.
North Park Elementary School, San Bernardino, California.
Freeman High School, Rockford, Washington.
Aztec High School, Aztec, New Mexico.
Marshall County High School, Benton, Kentucky.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida.
27 school shootings in the last 20 years. And this does not include suicides, gang related violence or deaths that resulted from interpersonal troubles. Let that number sink in for a moment. 27 school shootings in 20 years. An average of a little more than a school shooting a year. Nowhere else in the world is there this level of violence in schools. Nowhere. Whatever is happening here in the United States simply does not have any other countries to compare to in terms of this issue.
And this is just schools. This does not include the Las Vegas shooting, the Pulse nightclub shooting or the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Just schools. And the pace of these school shootings is escalating. Fifteen have occurred in the last ten years. Ten have occurred in the last five years. That is two a year.
We have a school shooting problem. We have a shooting problem. We have an incarceration problem. And, once again, little is likely to come from this latest school shooting. There will be no honest discussion about a complex problem, because we will cling to our tired clichés. There will be people who will pray, and while spiritually beneficial, all too soon there will be another incident where we will be called to pray again. We will hear again that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. We will hear again that simply banning automatic weapons will solve the problem, when the gun responsible for the most deaths is the handgun. And once again, no meaningful search for a solution to a problem will happen.
Why? Because before we discuss solutions, we must admit the problem. It is not just a gun problem. We have a spiritual problem. I am not simply discussing a problem related to going to church or belonging to a religion. We have a spiritual problem because in too many instances we sell our values for short term gain. And it is not just Republicans. And it is not just Democrats. It is what arises from politics that have become tribal. It is what arises when people stop using words like evil and sin.
When we do not believe every human being has a right to be born, we create the seeds of violence. When we refer to immigrants as criminals, rapists and murderers, we sow the seeds of violence. When we become comfortable when almost 1 in 5 children live in poverty, we sow the seeds of violence. When we allow schools in high poverty areas to languish, we sow the seeds of violence. When we are comfortable with children not have equity and access to the type of education that would provide them the opportunity to succeed, we sow the seeds of violence. When we are ok with the culture that makes it possible for men to sexually harass, assault and abuse women, we sow the seeds of violence. When we objectify people through pornography, and sexualize human beings in the interest of selling a product (I am pointing out your World Series ads a few years ago, Hardees) we sow the seeds of violence.
Bottom line. We are our brother’s keeper. We must see Jesus in every other human being, without exception. (This means doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.) We must welcome the stranger. We must care when people do not have access to basic needs. We must fight for the right of every human being to be born and cared for after birth. We must fight for a country that seeks to provide opportunity for all, regardless of income. We must fight for an end to human trafficking, pornography and the sexual exploitation of women. Put simply, I must emulate Jesus, in whose image I and everyone else is made.
We need to admit our spiritual problem. A problem with the spirit. We need to be kind to each other. We need to be responsible for our own sins. We need to be responsible and admit that we choose not to help others when we could. We need to admit that we are responsible, each one of us, for sins of justice that perpetuate, and even make worse, the imbalance of opportunity among peoples in this world. We need to understand that when we think of ourselves as over and against other human beings, and we do little to understand people who disagree with us, we make it even more likely that people will be left out and ostracized.
Saint James reminds us of this in his letter. “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)
Respect for human dignity cannot be limited to certain human beings. Respect for human dignity cannot be limited to respecting only people who look like us. It cannot be limited only to people who agree with us, or see the world like us. We must stop referring to people with whom we disagree as crazy or evil. We must stop using belittling nicknames for our political opponents. I have never referred to another politician with a derogatory nickname. This is not because I am better than anyone else. It is because I know I must respect people to have any influence on making things better.
I am tired of the same old stupid lines that come out after tragedies like this. Yes, despite drug laws, people still do drugs. So, should all drugs simply be legal? Gun control alone, in whatever form it takes, will not end violence. Can we, for once, rise to the occasion of a tragedy, by demonstrating a willingness to admit we have a violence problem. Can we put away the clichés and admit that for whatever reason, the United States is an outlier with gun violence. Can we research to find out why? Can we have logical, evidence-based discussions to discover a solution? Can we admit that this is a complex problem that will not be easily or quickly solved?
Can we stop blaming the mentally ill? Yes, there are mentally ill people who are violent. But people who are mentally ill are far more likely to be victims of violence, not perpetrators. While it is estimated that one in four people will experience some sort of mental illness, 25% of people are not engaging in violent behavior. Correlation (when something is related) is not causation (when something produces an effect). I could find correlation between being male and violence. Does that mean then that we should pass laws to keep men from guns? Of course not.
I do believe we need to discuss reasonable gun restrictions. When the United States turned its attention to cars, to make them safer, cars became much safer. I realize the Constitution does not make having and driving a car a right. But with every right comes responsibility. And as much as I wonder why people need an AR-15, the most problematic gun in the United States is the handgun. We need to be able to discuss the issue of gun violence. And we need a national solution. Yes, some cities have restrictive gun laws. But, drive a few miles, and guns are easy to get. We need to sit down and talk with each other about this problem, and a whole host of others. But we won’t. And, in fact, until we admit our spiritual problem, it will not make a difference even if we did.