It was decades ago, but I remember the day vividly: I could hardly sleep the night before. After a quick bowl of cereal, I was on my bike and on my way to our local elementary school. Even though it was summer, and as a rising middle school student this was no longer my digs, I was elated on this morning to go back to school.
I arrived early, but I was not the first. Most of my peers were as excited as I was, and had been waiting as I had for this once-a-year class for 12-year-olds on gun safety. This class was an annual ritual — a rite of passage for all of the kids of my generation. Your safety card was the key to going hunting with your dad and older siblings.
I grew up in a house of hunters, and subsequently in a house with guns. Some of my fondest memories are early mornings, sitting in “goose pits” with my father, waiting for a flock of geese to land amidst our decoys.
Through instruction, from my father and siblings’ influence, and even from my peers, I learned a very healthy respect for guns. This respect we passed on to our children — who also learned gun safety.
Fast-forward 24 years. I was then a priest and deeply involved with young
people. It was a cold day just like most are in February, when a 14-year-old walked in to a school, filled with young people I knew and care deeply for, with guns in hand. This was three years before Columbine. In the end, one teacher and two students were killed. I’m still connected with a number of those young people, most whom have kids of their own. Like me, most of these young people grew up with guns for hunting — not as weapons to kill or injure another human being.
As we are all aware, in December we once again witnessed the senseless horrific atrocities brought by a mentally unstable person who should never have had access to firearms. What you may not be aware of is that on that same morning, across the world in China, a mentally ill individual stabbed a number of kindergarteners as they entered the gates of the school that same day.
When did violence against the innocent and vulnerable become an option for people to strike back for the pain and anguish they experience in their own lives?
What will our response be to this and other forms of violence that seems to continue to escalate?
It is unquestionable that a change must take place. A significant portion of that change must focus on who has access to weapons, how much access they have, and what kind of weapons should be permissible. These are important legal questions that we as a society must discuss.
I also believe there are deeper questions and conversations that we as people of faith must take the lead on. Do we truly believe every human being is made in the image of God and, as such, a child of God? Do we believe that our neighbor should be loved as we are loved? Do we believe the dignity of every human being should be respected? These are Gospel imperative questions that should frame our belief in the sacred value of every life.
Guns, knives, baseball bats or the words we speak — when we use these in a way that devalues another, we lose our foundational understanding of the importance of each child of God.
The National Council of Churches has joined with several interfaith partners in calling for a national religious call-in day to Congress, urging members to act within 50 days to enact gun control legislation, and calling President Obama to continue to act swiftly to end this national epidemic. Learn more and sign up to receive more information.