MY HOST MOM and I were watching the news when a story came up about a nearby shooting. She turned and asked me in Spanish, Doesn’t this happen a lot in the US? Caught off guard, I immediately said no.
I thought I was being honest. After all, neither I nor all the people I know personally have ever been victims of gun violence. Right?
I wish I’d answered differently. Especially in light of Thursday’s mass shooting in Oregon, I see how problematic my answer was.
My ready “no” revealed how I’d grown so accustomed to this violence. I hadn’t internalized the fact that the US is the only developed country in the world without sufficient common-sense gun-safety laws. I didn’t realize that the US had such a notorious reputation that my host mom would associate a shooting in Colombia with shootings in US. And to think that Colombia is feared for being “dangerous”!
President Obama’s response to the tragedy was deeply moving and compelling. He boldly stated that “our thoughts and prayers are not enough… It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America.”
As of today, there have been 297 mass shootings in the US in 2015. What can be done?
The President challenged the people of the US “to think about how they can get our government to change these laws, and to save lives, and to let young people grow up.”
The government has a positive role to play in curbing gun violence. Passing different laws is not a panacea to social ills, but laws do have power – both real and symbolic. Laws influence the way society views an issue, which can go a long way in the area of gun violence.
Legislation alone will not bring lasting change. Laws cannot change hearts. That is where faith comes in. In my faith tradition, Christianity, the two greatest commandments are 1) love God and 2) love one’s neighbor as oneself.
The only way to even attempt the first is to receive God’s love. The way to obey the second is to recognize God’s love for all people and God’s image in all people.
I know faith communities across the US have been and are praying for peace and working to help their communities flourish. I hope I can contribute to this work from afar with the things I’m learning, as I serve in a country that has suffered a 50-year-long internal conflict and work with a church that accompanies communities displaced by the conflict.