I don’t own any real guns. If the government wants to regulate them, go ahead, it won’t bother me personally. But, if the main issue that America addresses after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting is gun regulation – then I fear that we are all missing the mark.
My Childhood, Guns and Being Loved
As far as I can remember, I have actually only ever shot a real gun twice in my life. The first time was with my dad, for target practice when I was a teenager. The second was as a “test round” for the Matt Light Celebrity Shoot-out, which is a clay-shooting event in Rhode Island that raises money for charity geared toward children and youth. Outside of that I have only played with a bunch of toy guns – airsoft, paintball, bb guns etc.
Actually, one of my fondest childhood memories was shooting a bb gun with my grandmother (my mom’s mom) as a grade-school student. We would sit on her porch that over-looked a ridge down to a small pond filled with bullfrogs that would sit on the banks in the summer. She would load the gun and carefully hand it to me and we would shoot into the water two feet or so in front of the frogs. As a child there was amusement in this because the frogs around the bank – either startled or instinctively assuming the bb was a bug – would immediately jump multifold into the pond. After we were done, my grandmother would empty the remaining bb’s carefully, put them back in the box and into a drawer – and then she’d lean the gun up against a desk or other piece of furniture until the next time.
I never once considered taking, much less using, that gun on my own. It wasn’t that I was worried about shooting my eye out. Grandma had simply said not to and I knew grandma loved me so I never questioned her. She was always (and is) a gentle woman, teaching me how to feed wild chickadees from my hand and always drawing my attention to passing family of deer that would make their way through the forest past the house. As such, when grandma managed to save enough change so that we could go see Bambi at the movie theater together – the last thing I considered was actually shooting anything with a real gun.
My life has always held nuance though when it comes to such thinking because my father is an avid hunter. He used to hunt – I am told – with his father. My grandfather loved the woods. A lot of this probably came from the fact that my grandparents used to own a house in Pennsylvania next to an Indian reservation. The tribe’s respect for nature and particularly animals apparently rubbed off on them because my family, as far as I know, has never been much for just shooting something just to shoot it. My dad always eats the meat of the deer he kills and speaks of all animals with honor and beauty unlike the thoughtless fictional hunter of Bambi’s mother. My dad loves being in the woods because it reminds him of grandpa. And, while I probably couldn’t pull the trigger myself – I really do get why my dad values hunting so much. It is less about the actual hunt than it is about admiring the splendor and marvel of creation.
Throughout my life such perspective has helped to humble me when it comes to my own views on guns and hunting. I am personally ever-reminded that I am an absolute hypocrite when it comes to the food I choose to eat. If I had to kill anything myself to eat it – I’d probably starve to death. As such, I really admire how my dad honors the animals he eats, which is more than most of us can say with weak uninspired dinner prayers.
Love Has More Firepower
I tell these stories to say that, growing up, I had a lot of guns around me. My great-grandfather (mom’s side) used to keep his hunting rifles on racks over the kitchen table at his house. They were right out in the open and I could have guessed where the ammo was if I had ever though to use one. But the thought never crossed my mind. It didn’t because between my grandmother and my father I knew that guns were nothing to take lightly. My dad kept his large collection in a separate room and children were not allowed in that room period. I never questioned him or grandma because I knew, without a doubt, that they loved me.
Actually, to emphasize the point a bit further my dad has so many guns that he has told me that when he dies I won’t receive much of an inheritance from him – but I will receive an arsenal. On that day I guess I will become the stereotypical God and guns guy. That is fine, label me as you will – I know who my family is and what they stand for.
I share these insights not to say that I am necessarily for or against tighter gun regulations or because somehow I want to justify weaponry. I don’t.
I am neither an advocate of violence nor of injustice.
All things considered though, I do see a vitriol brewing though the hurt of the Sandy Hook tragedy that I would draw your attention to. A point to which partisan politics misses the greater issue altogether.
Are We Taking Aim and Shifting Blame or Taking Responsibility?
Mass shootings have far more to do with the lack of love that we show towards each other these days than anything else. One can own guns and love people. I know this because I have experienced it via others. On the other hand, I’m not so sure that one can slander, attack, and malign one another and show love. All we do in such attacks is inflame the severity of the initial problem. One deeply hurt and wounded human being is far more deadly than a warehouse of weaponry. We have many examples of lasting proof of such fact.
We have many examples of lasting proof of such fact.
As a pastor, every week I spend time with people who are one or two steps away from the hurt and isolation that leads to tragedy. There are times in my life that, were I not shown the love and care described above I could have been every bit the villain that we have seen in the past week. But in those times of despair and heartache, in those days of suffering through situations that might seem mundane to others – people came through for me and loved me and cared for me.
As such, I wonder how is it that we are not be more appalled by the fact that we emphatically fail to care for people? Specifically how are we not more appalled that we drastically fail to care for those with mental health issues? How is it that we allow ourselves to be ok the lack of love that is shown toward the disenfranchised? I have wept this week for the loss of precious lives – but I have also wept because, truth be told – even if it is in just some small way – we all have failed those children and adults in Newtown. I take it personal. We all should. The murderer, the killer – he was a elementary student once too – and somewhere along the line, humanity let him slip through the cracks un-cared for.
To be sure the task before us is a daunting on. For instance, battling mental health issues are mind-numbingly difficult. They not as attractive as say, wearing pink and fighting cancer. To be sure, cancer is deadly and a worthy foe but one can “beat” cancer. You can’t necessarily “win” per say, when it comes to mental health issues, in-so-far as there hardly ever a clear-cut cure. It is an ever-present battle for those who are faced with such obstacles – trials that they will likely face for the duration of their lifetime. But doesn’t that then warrant our efforts for such issues even more?
Thus one might ask: Where is the outrage that we aren’t caring for one another properly? I mean seriously, how are we as individuals and communities doing on that one? Are we just shifting the blame or are we genuinely taking collective responsibility in loving those who have been cast aside and who are in despair?
In my experience, people are most quick to shift the blame when they know the blame is even partially their own.
Simply put: Are we really loving people in each moment that we have?
We must make time. We must reach out. We must regulate the vitriol. And then, in love – whatever we must do to provide care – that is what we must do.