by M. Courtenay Willcox
Shots that rang out in two Christchurch mosques have reverberated in the heads and hearts of people around the world, and the New Zealand government has responded with blistering speed. Only six days after the country’s worst mass shooting, military-style semiautomatics and assault rifles are banned.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, said, “On 15 March our history changed forever. Now, our laws will too. We are announcing action today on behalf of all New Zealanders to strengthen our gun laws and make our country a safer place.”
New Zealand cannot help notice and be informed by the deficiency of policy change following ongoing mass shootings in the United States. The announcement of new gun laws can only leave Americans stunned, reeling and envious of the swiftness and authority of actions instituted against gun violence.
Pure evil was delivered from the barrel of a semi-automatic assault weapon as deadly hate, prejudice and disregard for human life contributed to the shooting that killed 50 Muslims as they worshiped in New Zealand last week.
Violence is so endemic in our society that the youngest victim – a three-year-old – ran toward his killer, believing the gun-wielding assassin was a figure in a video game. The almost immediate response to ban weapons whose only purpose is to kill as many people as possible is a fait accompli halfway around the world from America, but it could be a million miles away for all the impact this judicious and wise decision will have on American lawmakers. Our government’s lack of action is an embarrassment.
In contrast to this swift and decisive response half a world away, it has been 20 years since the Columbine shooting, in which 13 people died, drawing national attention and scrutiny but little effort or response by our elected officials to reduce gun violence. Following each mass shooting in this country, lawmakers stalwartly resist the call for common sense gun laws. Instead, they offer “thoughts and prayers” and accuse those calling for reform of politicizing the tragedy.
Gun violence, whether as a mass shooting or an effective way to commit suicide, demands our attention and political reform. While guns appeal to an infatuation with violence, offering a veiled illusion of protection, power and control while holding fear at bay, their use results in senseless loss and grief with no hope or redemption.
Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings seven years ago, there have been nearly 2,000 mass shootings in the United States. Names and locations of recent shootings are instantly recognizable, the Aurora movie theater, Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, Pulse Nightclub, Las Vegas music festival, Marjorie Stoneman Douglass High, Tree of Life Synagogue and the while the list goes on. The human lives ended in those deadly rampages do not. They are stopped, dead. These events live in our memories accompanied by a wave of despair, but we can no longer be surprised by mass shootings in the United States. They will not stop until we compel our lawmakers to enact change. How many dead bodies must pile up until there is a response that affects change in our country’s laws?
Gun availability in the U.S. is flourishing, with the United States having the most guns per capita of any other country in the world, more than one gun per person. Are your legally purchased firearms stored with multiple safeguards against unauthorized use? With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, Americans own nearly 40 percent of the world’s firearms. We are a stunning and embarrassing world anomaly with the number of guns that populate our country.
Robust American consumerism does not stop with the stuff of fast cars, expensive homes and shiny doo-dads, but bleeds into the gun market as well. The result is that America suffers 105 gun-related deaths per day from homicide, suicide and accidental shootings. It is a world record around which we should hang our heads in shame.
Comedians make fun of us for supporting a national obsession that calls for the proliferation of guns in our country while other governments look to the U.S. for what not to do as they aim to keep their citizens safe. The abundance of guns and the violence they bring with them make it our collective responsibility as we respond to human suffering and work to institute background checks and waiting periods, curtail gun availability and compel law enforcement to crack down on straw purchases.
While I realize this latest shooting happened in New Zealand, it was an event that brought hate and hardware together to disastrous results with a shadow cast over the world. What are we going to do? Stand up, speak out until legislation reflects the sensibilities of the majority of Americans around safer gun laws.
United Lutheran Seminary is partnering with Heeding God’s Call to End Gun Violence and planning a Gun Violence Awareness Day on the Avenue in May. Come and be a part of the planning. Let us show what it looks like to have interfaith communities gather, to have love and prayers enfleshed in a march down Germantown Avenue, to hear from victims of gun violence as we honor those who have died in senseless shootings, send letters to representatives and form relationships over a common call to end gun violence in our communities and in our country.
M. Courtenay Willcox is a student at United Lutheran Seminary in Mt. Airy.