As the leader of a local faith community, I have become quite proficient at holding prayer vigils in response to mass shootings. We gather and distribute candles. We pray. We read the names of victims. We ask the Lord to "have mercy."
A movie theatre in Aurora, a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, a kindergarten class in Newtown, the Washington Navy Yard, a church in Charleston, a Christmas party in San Bernardino, and a nightclub in Orlando are just a handful of the three-dozen mass shootings that have transpired in the United States since 2012. This level of gun violence is not normal.
Researchers at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University identify gun violence in the United States as a public health crisis. U.S. children are fourteen times more likely to die by gun violence than any other developed nation. People die by gun at thirty times the rate of the United Kingdom. This is not normal.
Invariably, someone is going to argue that now is not the time to bring up gun control. Gun rights defenders will accuse me of politicizing this tragedy. If we follow this logic, it will never be the time since these tragedies occur with such pathological regularity in this nation. One suspects that is what the NRA, weapons makers, and all who financially profit from this country's pain desire. They prefer that we just keep on praying, while they make the tools of death and human destruction more accessible. They prefer that we keep distributing candles while they make mass murder more efficient. The NRA and its Congressional accomplices prefer for us to hold another vigil, while weapons sales increase and gun stocks rise following each mass shooting.
I say, no. We must stop dancing on cue. Polls reveal that the majority of Americans want stricter gun control laws. The majority of reasonable Americans realize that assault weapon bans, smart gun technology, and federal waiting periods are features of a sane, civilized society. Accessibility is THE issue. We know the problem. Stricter gun laws are the solution.
This nation is sick. Our cultural anxiety, toxic masculinity, and racial, religious, and ethnic bigotries are eating away at the soul of this nation. It even caused us to elect a madman to the presidency that embodies the worst aspects of our country's cultural disease. We have much to work through as a nation. But until we do, we cannot allow men like Dylan Roof, Omar Mateen, and Stephen Paddock such easy access to handheld weapons of mass destruction.
Congress must act. No more slogans. Guns in the hands of good guys are not stopping the bad guys. No more hiding behind anachronistic appeals to the second amendment. We are not talking about muskets and bayonets, but killing machines that the founders could have never imagined. And please stop with the racialized red herring about Chicago, as if those who love to cite violence on that city's Southside give a damn about the hell these people are catching each day. It is time to stop the madness and excuses. We have to have the courage to call the NRA exactly what it has become—a domestic terrorist organization that places profit above the lives of the American people.
If Congress is unwilling to act, then this nation should just own our sick and twisted reality. Mass shootings will just become a part of the quotidian fabric of American life — a sad, but an unsurprising event. Thus, don't ask me to pray. Don't ask me to hold a vigil for victims. Nor will I light any more candles. I recall the words of the prophet Isaiah on behalf of God to a hard-headed nation. "When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood."
But if we, the American people, can find the courage and the will to stand up to the forces of evil, and create laws that protect the safety and security of American citizens, then we can change the direction of this nation. We can pray, but we must also act. Then, maybe, we can turn to another verse from the Hebrew Bible. 2 Chronicles 7:14
"If My people, who are called by My name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."