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Perspective: It’s time to ask hard questions about gun violence

We are not free when our society must cower at the threat of mass shootings. We are not brave when we do nothing

SHARE Perspective: It’s time to ask hard questions about gun violence

Michelle Budge, Deseret News

The recent killing of seven people by a man with a high-powered gun in Highland Park, Illinois, was shocking to the soul of America. 

The massacre at an Independence Day parade was preceded by the shooting of 10 African Americans in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, which was followed by the shooting of 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, leaving many of us shaken, unnerved and spiritually weary.

Then came the shootings in Tulsa.

Season after season, we learn of story after story in which innocent people are killed with assault weapons in acts of hate-induced rage. As Christians, inasmuch as we believe, we must forgive. But when we see such tragedy, we cannot help but ask the question asked by David in Psalm 13: “How long, O Lord?” 

How long, Lord, will your people continue to be randomly killed? How long, Lord, will the wicked prey upon the innocent? How long, Lord, will rounds of bullets penetrate the flesh of our neighbors and leave them lifeless? How long, Lord, will the cries for assault-weapon bans fall on deaf ears?

For decades, we have looked to elected officials to propose and enact legislation that will protect us from assault weapons. However, what we have come to realize after the Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Charleston, Las Vegas, Buffalo, Uvalde and Highland Park shootings is that there is an unwillingness to act that seems to be born of an insensitive obtuseness to the severity of these shootings. Some are even asking if the media need to show the horrifying images of massacred children in order to make people confront the truth of what is happening. But there are other things that can and should be done.

We have to ask ourselves, are we creating and cultivating a society of angry bullies? Are we closing off and shutting down opportunities to air discord, process disagreement and manage conflict? Especially during COVID-19, have we invested in mental health care to provide critical services and resources?

And where is the outrage that can move us forward, like we have seen in recent weeks about Roe v. Wade? Where are the ministers, marches and movements on this issue? 

We now have states where it is easier to get an assault weapon than to have an abortion. There are more gun shops than abortion clinics. It is easier to end a life after birth than it was to end life in the womb.   

The discussion about assault weapons must change. The status quo is not sustainable or acceptable. With each mass shooting, we diminish the meaning of “land of the free and home of the brave.” We are not free when our society must cower at the threat of mass shootings. We are not brave when we silently, passively and apprehensively do nothing.

Someone must have the courage, conscience and compassion to introduce a ban on assault weapons. The eligibility standards, background checks, application costs, high-capacity magazine sales and distribution of assault weapons must be completely reevaluated. And this process should be with an eye toward safety, not solicitations; life, not lobbyists; morality, not membership; bipartisanship, not bias; and people, not politics.   

Americans are not people who shrivel up and hide, or fold our arms and walk away. We are people who step up, bounce back and find a way. We personified this after 9/11. We should be able to galvanize our intellectual, political and financial resources and come up with a solution.  

With strained patience, dwindling humility and declining deference to the government, we should look to God, who is the reservoir of our hope, and ask, like the psalmist, “How long?” in this way:

How long, Lord, should the letter be that we write to our senator? 

How long, Lord, should we march to protest assault weapons?

How long, Lord, would you like to use us to change the laws in this country? 

And how long, Lord, will you give us breath to say “thank you” when the laws have changed?    

The Rev. Theresa A. Dear is a national board member of the NAACP and a Deseret News contributor.