The adult Sunday school class at our church is reading and discussing the book America and Its Guns by James Atwood. It’s depressing. The rate of gun deaths in our country is many times higher than in other countries like Canada, Australia, and Japan, yet it’s politically impossible to enact sensible gun regulations. Too many have died and continue to die.
A recent vigil at the Washington National Cathedral remembered the 20 children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut who were killed last year by a lone gunman with a semi-automatic assault weapon. The vigil also remembered the more than 30,000 Americans who died from gun violence since that terrible tragedy a year ago.
Mass shootings are only the tip of the iceberg. Many more die from street violence in our cities, by suicide, and by accidental shootings in our homes. The major contributing factor is lax gun regulation. (Our country is awash in more than 300 million guns, many of which are unregistered.) Another factor is inner city poverty where the best job youth can get is in the illegal drug trade. Yet another is untreated mental illness. Some people also point to the degree of violence portrayed in video games and movies.
One hopeful statistic is that the number of homicides in our major cities has decreased significantly in the last decade. Yet the total number of deaths through gun violence has remained discouragingly constant at around 30,000 people each year.
We struggle with the question of what we can do as a community of faith. What does real peace look like in our gun culture and what can we do to help make it a reality? Some of us are involved in organizing a community forum on gun violence. We’re also considering putting a display by the road in front of our church remembering each person in the DC area killed by gun violence last year.
It’s easy to get discouraged and cynical when working at something as big and seemingly intractable as gun violence. We need to practice loving our enemies and not forget to occasionally celebrate small victories. We draw strength and hope from the many dedicated people working in this effort with us. And we trust that God is alive and active in our midst in sometimes almost imperceptible ways.
Such hope goes to the heart of the Advent season as we celebrate the coming of Christ, the Prince of Peace.