Waking Up to Another (and Another) Death in America

From 1992’s Unforgiven.*

It was a week of bullets.

Like last week. Like last year. Like last decade. And the decade before that. Like when a Democrat was president. Like when a Republican was president.

A person about my age,

In his sixties, on the playing fields of youth,

On a bright blue early morning in Virginia,

Started shooting.

And shooting. Were the early reports really true? Was the man with two guns and hundreds of bullets targeting Republicans serving in Congress?

The bright blue bruise of a day had just begun, for on the west coast a solitary man in a UPS uniform entered his former employers in San Francisco and opened fire. He shot and killed three. Wounded two. And then he squeezed the trigger one last time. He won’t be answering any questions about why he took this gruesome action.

Two lone men. Right coast. Left coast. Two “mass shootings.”

And yet not alone.

For no reason other than seeking a city that infrequently makes the national media—and a city I’ve visited—I searched the news about Albuquerque, New Mexico. On June 5, I learned that two men had been shot. Another “mass shooting”—meaning multiple victims. But I could’ve found others wounded or killed elsewhere. In the last 72 hours (I started these words on June 16, 2017), there were 29 mass shootings in America.

We are nearly half-way through 2017. Not quite 26 weeks into this bright, beautiful year. There have been 156 mass shootings. In all of 2017’s gun violence since January 1, in the homicides and suicides and accidents that involved pulling a trigger, 6,947 people have died.

(It’s more now

by the time

you read this.)

Our current president is a strong advocate for the “right to bear arms.” A few months into office, in April of 2017, he was the first sitting U.S. President to address the National Rifle Association (NRA) since Ronald Reagan. During Mr. Trump’s campaign, and since entering the Oval Office, he has been belligerent with his choice of words. Even Mr. Trump’s most ardent supporters wouldn’t deny that his speeches and tweets have demeaned others. How can his bellicose attitude not add more fuel to our hateful, weapon-wielding, bullet-riddled culture?

I could argue that President Obama was a near polar opposite to Mr. Trump. He openly wept about the victims of flying bullets. He used the presidency’s bully pulpit to push for changes in gun laws and mental health resources. Mostly, in spite of his tears and hard work, he failed. In 2015, Mr. Obama’s second to last year in office, 13,484 were killed by bullets. There were 334 “mass shootings.” Will Mr. Trump’s first year in office improve on those grim, fatal facts? I suppose it depends on how you define “improve.”

It would appear, with these surface statistics, a president’s rhetoric or efforts have minimal impact. Americans just keep killing Americans.

In 2013, Pew Research noted that homicides by gun have dramatically decreased since the killing peak of 1993. In that blood-stained year, there were 7 gun homicides for every 100,000 Americans. By 2010 the rate plummeted to 3.6 per 100,000 happy citizens.

Feel better?

A week ago, here in my home of Fresno County, a 14-year old boy shot a 13-year old boy. Until the next one, it’s our most recent gun death.

No, I don’t feel better.

I am sad. Worse yet, sometimes I’m not sad. I read about a death, about bullets exiting metal barrels, about another finger putting just enough pressure on a trigger, and think (how awful I think this): ho-hum.

Another death.

More blood.

More victims.

More hate.

I turn the page or click the mouse and read the sports. How can those Giants keep losing? I click to another web page, escaping the endless digital bloodshed, and read a movie review. Or I post a picture of my dog to Facebook and then go take a nap.

This gun violence will never stop, will it?

How we kill ourselves, and how fervently we defend the “right to bear arms,” is one of the obvious proofs to me that I don’t live in a so-called “Christian nation.”

I read passages in the Old Testament where God (or God’s “chosen”) killed and/or pillaged the “enemy.” Or a sibling or child. I’m a smart ordained guy, and can confidently preach a contextual, theologically sound sermon explaining the Holy mayhem. But I always cringe when the ancient text includes stoning and vengeance and gory battlefields and all those eyes for an eye. Isn’t everyone between Genesis and Malachi blind in at least one eye? Or murdered.

Then I read about Jesus. I don’t believe Jesus said everything the Bible says he said. Some was made-up. Some was filtered through authors just like me: afraid of my shadow or the empire or making everything seem better than it was.

And yet, whether what we have about Jesus is literally true, or mostly true, how could anyone, claiming to follow the Prince of Peace, have anything to do with guns? Where does Jesus advocate for violence as a solution? Shouldn’t every Christian in this not-so-Christian nation defy the blathering and obfuscating and divisive National Rifle Association (NRA) by advocating for a radical change in how we handle—literally and metaphorically—guns?

We don’t need guns.

Soldiers? Sure. Let there be a well-regulated militia . . . ya know, the armed services like the Coast Guard and Air Force and Army Rangers and Marines and Delta Force and Seal Team 6 and the CIA and the FBI and the . . .

Peace officers? Maybe. But should we spend more money on fancy SWAT teams or teaching cops not to be racist?

Take away all the hunting rifles. In the 21st century, who needs them? Take away the weapons used for home defense. Are you kidding? Defense against what?

But then only criminals will have weapons.

Fine.

It would take a long time, but if we start changing our values about killing and revenge and stupidly settling arguments with bullets rather than words, isn’t that better than our current situation?

Why should anyone have any gun?

Whoa. Stop! Aren’t my words useless and futile?

Yes, your words are

Foolish;

The NRA chortles.

Naïve Larry.

We’ll keep our guns, thank you.

Isn’t everyone safer now?

From what?

Americans will always lust after guns. Nothing will change.

Any-who, it’s not the gun, it’s the one pulling the trigger. Guns don’t kill people, people do. If I don’t have a gun, I’d use a knife or shovel.

One of my lovely memories of my father was hunting with him. Dad gave me a .410 shotgun. Out we ventured, on my grandparents’ farm in Merced, to shoot rabbits. Or pheasants. Dad taught me how to use the weapon, made sure I understood how to stay safe. Dad had been in World War II. Though he never experienced combat, he’d spent years carrying a weapon.

I think now, when we tramped across the pasture not far from Bear Creek, did it matter that I grasped a gun? No, just walking with Dad was the best. How I loved being with him!

Back in the 1980s, I served for a year on Mendocino County’s grand jury. I vividly recall a case the county’s attorney gave us to consider: a hunting accident. Or was it an accident? Several men hunted for deer in the forest. One didn’t return. Another hunter—I believe the dead man’s best friend—pulled the trigger when he spotted (so he claimed) a deer lunging between trees. But his mindless bullet didn’t kill the deer. It killed his friend.

Homicide? Accident?

I despise guns. No, I don’t. I hate that we think they should be so easy access. I hate that some citizens think their interpretation of the Second Amendment is sacred. I hate that we think we solve problems by harming our neighbor. (And, if you follow Jesus, who isn’t your neighbor?)

But my words are futile.

We’ll keep aiming guns at each other. Based on the cold, hard facts about gun deaths, if you’ve read this far in this way-too-wordy essay, another person has already been gunned down in the United States. We’ll keep putting a metal barrel in our mouths and there will be another suicide in the next hour. We’ll keep playing with the unlocked, unsafe weapon, and another kid will kill another kid and there will be another accident in the hour after that. An hour later, someone will break into a home and someone will be shot. Dead. Maybe it will be the burglar. Maybe.

I have no solutions that will make sense to those who disagree with me.

A 2016 study by the American Journal of Medicine compared gun deaths in 22 similar, “high income” nations (including Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, etc.). CBS News summarized part of the study with,

Even though it has half the population of the other 22 nations combined, the United States accounted for 82 percent of all gun deaths. The United States also accounted for 90 percent of all women killed by guns, the study found. Ninety-one percent of children under 14 who died by gun violence were in the United States. [Italics and bold font are mine.]

Sigh.

Whether in my town or yours, I suspect tomorrow I’ll wake up to another death in America. To another trigger pulled and another fragile human will have breathed their last. Transforming our values on gun ownership, addressing mental health concerns, and replacing divisiveness with neighborliness seem to be the issues of my lifetime that no one can change, and too many don’t care to change.

+++++++++

*The picture is from Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992), his brilliant, revisionist Western. Of the many issues the film reveals, one is how a small insult, a perceived humiliation, eventually leads to killing. Early on, an apology might have prevented the escalation of violence. Words were abandoned for bullets.

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you for talking about this important subject. I am not a fan of guns. They tend to settle issues before the facts have been established. We have accepted this as a normal. When Congress, Council, Board or the Assembly doesn’t act, we move on to the next shiny object. I don’t believe there are many people who can say their life has not been touched by gun related violence. Mine has more than once. I don’t have the solution to the problem. However, I do what I can when I vote, when I speak, with my money and in my household. It’s a start.

    1. Solutions are hard to come by, and honest dialog among the “sides” seems to be even harder. Some of my language/perspective in this essay is intentionally “drastic.” But I still hope that, for all sides, our better angels will eventually prevail.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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