Most conversations around gun violence are emotionally and politically charged. However, one thing we can all agree on is that gun violence irrevocably alters lives.
My humble guess is that if you’ve found this page, you have lost a family member, friend, neighbor, colleague, or acquaintance to gun violence. Less than a year ago I lost my brother to a gun suicide, which accounts for more than 50 percent of all gun deaths in the U.S.
When it comes right down to it, we want to understand and we will grieve. This section of Eternal Scheme is devoted to blog posts I’ve written about my own experience around gun violence and other resources that may be helpful to you on your journey. I also invite you to email me. Maybe, as we tell our stories together, we can find hope and healing in the midst of so much tragedy.
January 17 marks the 25th anniversary of the Cleveland School shooting. The gunman, who had a long criminal history, shot and killed five schoolchildren, and wounded 29 other children and one teacher, before killing himself. Some think it began the most recent cycle of school shootings.
On January 17, 1989, the gunman, a disturbed drifter and former Cleveland School student, began his attack by setting his van on fire with a Molotov Cocktail after parking it behind the school. The car later exploded. He then moved to the school playground and began firing his Type 56 Assault Rifle from behind a portable building. He fired 106 rounds in three minutes. All of the fatally shot victims and many of the wounded were Cambodian and Vietnamese immigrants. The gunman shot himself in the head with a pistol.
The multiple murders at the Cleveland School in Stockton received national news coverage, Michael Jackson came to the school, and it spurred calls for regulation of semi-automatic weapons. “Why could Purdy, an alcoholic who had been arrested for such offenses as selling weapons and attempted robbery, walk into a gun shop in Sandy, Oregon, and leave with an AK-47 under his arm?” Time magazine asked.
That was the beginning of California’s crusade defining and then banning assault weapons. Today, California has some of the nation’s toughest gun legislation, thanks in part to the teachers who were there that horrible day and whose students were among the victims. Others who were injured are also part of the gun debate, however on the side for gun rights. Twenty-five years later, it is still a difficult issue. One thing everyone does agree on is that their lives were forever altered.
January 14, 2014 – 25 years later and the third school shooting so far in January 2014 – a 12 year-old boy brought his modified shotgun to school, wounding two other students before putting down his firearm at the request of a teacher.
This is getting ridiculous. Actually, it’s beyond ridiculous. Let’s add children’s hospitals to our list of of unsafe places from the threat of gun violence.
A suspect was visiting in the neonatal unit at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin when police approached to arrest him. He was holding a baby! He put the baby down and ran before police shot him in the wrist. No one else was injured.
I am stunned and nearly speechless. While the suspect brandished a firearm, he never fired. The police fired several shots. While chasing this guy in the hospital. Unbelievable.
Here’s my list of unsafe places: schools, porches, airports, theaters, parking lots, spas, streets, your own home, freeways, turnpikes, libraries, places of worship, cars, parks, libraries, driveways, gyms, military bases, stores, beaches, offices, universities and colleges, friend’s home, garages, and now hospitals.
Here’s my list of people who are unsafe: police, spouses or intimate partners, neighbors, family members, co-workers, classmates, everyone you know, and everyone you don’t know.
A common comment I get is also a favorite statement of the National Rifle Association: guns don’t kill people; people kill people. Technically that’s true. A gun needs a person to pull the trigger. Guns are the means by which a person kills another person; violence begetting violence.
Here’s the thing: violence is learned and we know a lot about the factors that contribute to violence. Violence is by no means only among gang members in blighted neighborhoods under the decay of poverty. Drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and mental illness also contribute to violence. While we will never eradicate every factor that contributes to violence nor change the behavior of every potentially violent person – we all possess the ability to become violent – most of the gun violence we see and hear about it preventable.
If something is preventable, then it becomes a public health problem. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines public health as:
the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals.
Violence shortens life and threatens the health of the people involved, just as does poor food handling practices or contagious diseases. Yet, we’re willing to enact laws and best practices to help curtail certain public health crises. We’re reluctant, however, to enact common sense laws and support programs that will help mitigate the violence that is rampant in our homes, schools, theaters, neighborhoods, places of employment and business, churches, clinics, parks, and every other place people are found.
I think we can unlearn violence by addressing the factors that contribute to our culture of violence:
how we raise our children as parents and as a community
how we end domestic violence
how we treat alcohol and drug dependency
how we promote gun safety and legal accountability of firearm ownership
how we create and consume media and entertainment in which violence is so prominent
Jesus and his followers lived under the occupation of the Roman Empire. They were acquainted with the culture of violence. The temptation to be pulled into their own version of Arab Spring was very real. Yet, Jesus, and subsequently his followers, continuously espoused a radical way of addressing and dealing with violence.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:14-21).
We can unlearn violence. We must unlearn violence … especially if we are a follower of Jesus. Enough is enough.
Another school shooting. This time a middle school in Sparks, Nevada where a 12-year-old student shot and killed a popular math teacher and wounded two students before shooting and killing himself. This brings the school shooting tally for 2013 to sixteen by what I can find through a scattered online search. We’re on track for averaging two school shootings a month for the year.
It isn’t because God is absent on school campuses. It isn’t because we do not have armed people on campuses. School shootings are only an extension of the ongoing violence we tolerate in all areas of life. The accessibility of guns only adds to the already complex mix of bullying, abuse, mental illness, and personality instability prevalent in all of our lives.
School shootings are not a modern crisis either. In fact, the U. S. has a long, rich history of school shootings! The earliest known school shooting was the Pontiac Rebellion School massacre in July 1764. Four Lenape Native American warriors shot and killed the schoolmaster Enoch Brown and nine children near present-day Greencastle, Pennsylvania. When the warriors returned to their village, the Delaware chief rebuked them for their cowardice in killing children.
It’s now 2013 and here is where we stand in school shootings:
January 10, 2013 – Taft, California: A 16-year-old Taft High School student entered a science classroom with a 12 gauge shotgun and opened fire. A 16-year-old male student was shot in the chest and critically wounded. Another student was shot at, but was not hit. The classroom teacher, Ryan Heber, convinced him to drop his weapon, which he did and was later arrested. Mr. Heber suffered a minor wound from being grazed by a shotgun pellet during the ordeal. The teacher and the student that was shot at were believed to be intended targets of the gunman. On January 14, the student gunman was charged with two counts of attempted murder and assault with a firearm.
January 12, 2013 – Detroit, Michigan: A 16-year-old boy was shot in a field across the school campus after a basketball game at Osborn High School. He was hospitalized in serious condition.
January 15, 2013 – Hazard, Kentucky: Two people were shot and killed and a third person was wounded at the parking lot of Hazard Community and Technical College. The third victim, 12-year-old, died from her wounds the next day. A 21-year-old was arrested and charged with three counts of murder.
January 22, 2013 – Houston, Texas: Two men got into an argument on the Lone Star College–North Harris campus. One of the men pulled out a gun and shot and injured the other man, a student. A maintenance man suffered a gunshot wound to the leg. The gunman accidentally shot himself in the leg. After the shooting, the gunman fled into the woods and was arrested hours later.
January 29, 2013 – Midland City, Alabama: Known as the 2013 Alabama bunker hostage crisis, a man in his 60s, boarded a school bus and shot and killed the bus driver, Charles Albert Poland Jr., 66. The gunman abducted a 6-year-old child and held him hostage in an underground bunker. The gunman was shot to death by police several days later.
March 18, 2013 – Orlando, Florida: A 30-year-old student at the University of Central Florida pulled a fire alarm in a school dormitory. According to plans he had written, he intended to attract a large amount of people inside the building to shoot them. He then pointed a handgun at his roommate and threatened to shoot him inside their dormitory room. He released his roommate who ran into a bathroom to call 911 before then fatally shooting himself. Authorities found an assault weapon, a couple hundred rounds of ammunition and four homemade bombs inside his backpack.
Clearly, people who choose violence have a host of issues that contribute to their decision to use firearms. Universal background checks and limiting the availability of firearms will lessen guns being used – and it needs to happen – but it won’t end the use of violence we do to ourselves and others.
I’ve randomly chosen a story from a shooting a day for the past week.
Monday, October 21, 2013: A middle-school kid shot two students and a killed math teacher Michael Landsberry, 45-years-old, before shooting himself before school started. Sparks, Nevada.
Sunday, October 20, 2013: A church worship leader arrives early to set for Sunday worship when he notices a man lying in the alley, dead from a gunshot wound. His identity is unknown. El Paso, Colorado.
Saturday, October 19, 2013: Samarri Tyana Beauford, a two-year-old little girl accidentally shot herself when she found a loaded handgun under the couch. Her 19 year old father faces manslaughter charges and was also charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Friday, October 18, 2013: A neighbor heard gunshots. He found his 29-year-old neighbor, Michelle Williams, with a gunshot wound to the chest. She was shot and killed in her front year. She has a 13-year-old daughter. Hampton, Virginia.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013: A grandmother is accused of shooting and killing her 52-year-old husband, Randolph Alan Ford, and critically wounding her 20-year-old granddaughter. A 5-month-old boy was found unharmed. The motive is being investigated. Burson, California.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013: Adrian Alvaresz, 16, was sitting by himself during lunch when pulled out a handgun and shoots himself in front of other students. He posted his intent with a message on Facebook for his friends to help his mother and infant son. Austin, Texas.
Monday, October 14, 2013: An investigation is under way in the police shooting of a 22-year-old man, Jacob Westberg, who was suicidal and said he needed someone to talk to. When he came out of the house with his shotgun during the negotiations, the police shot and killed him. His brother, who arrived just after the police, tried to convince the police he could talk him down, but was not given the opportunity. Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Each of these stories represents only one shooting a day. Every day in the U.S., an average of 289 people are shot. Eighty-six of them die: 30 are murdered, 53 kill themselves, two die accidentally, and one is shot in a police intervention.
Here’s a public service announcement for women: there are ten states you need to avoid living in if you value your life and the lives of your daughters. It is Domestic Violence Awareness month and it is obvious we STILL have a major problem in this country regarding domestic violence. Not surprisingly, it is a problem directly connected to gun violence. Also, there’s a case before the United States Supreme Court now whether someone convicted of domestic violence can be prohibited from owning a gun.
The Violence Policy Center recently released a study based on 2011 homicide data of women killed by men. The numbers were obtained from the FBI and included only homicides including one female and one male. The goal of this report was to dispel some of the myths surrounding lethal violence against women.
In 2011, there were 1,707 female homicides of single victim/single offender:
94% of the time women (1,509 out of 1,601) were murdered by men they knew
60% of the murder victims (926) who knew the man, were wives or intimate acquaintances
264 of the women were shot and killed by their husband or intimate partner during an argument
when a weapon could be determined, the majority of women (51%) were killed with a firearm, predominantly an handgun; 20% by stabbing, 14% bodily force or blunt trauma
Here are the top ten dangerous states for women based on the 2011 study:
It is not a coincidence that the top ten dangerous states for women are also among those states with high gun ownership and lax gun laws. Women who are or have been in abusive relationships often consider getting a firearm as a means of protection. Yet, gun ownership contains clear risks which should be a serious concern for women. When a gun is in the home, a women is three times more likely to be shot and killed by a husband, partner or family relative than if no gun was available. In other words, a gun purchased by a woman for protection is more likely to be used against her than in protecting her.
The case before the Supreme Court involves James Castleman, who in 2001 pleaded guilty under Tennessee law to one count of misdemeanor domestic violence against the mother of his child. In 2009, Castleman was found in possession of several guns, which was prohibited by a 1996 law that made it illegal for those who have misdemeanor convictions of domestic violence involving physical force or a deadly weapon to possess guns. Allegedly, Castleman was purchasing weapons and selling them illegally. An appeals court in Cincinnati, Ohio, ruled that the federal law does not apply in Castleman’s case because his domestic violence conviction did not involve physical force.
Besides the known fact that guns and domestic violence are a lethal mix, many offenders are able to plea their conviction from a felony to a misdemeanor. If a violent offender were allowed to legally possess firearms, it’s then just a matter of time before that misdemeanor assault becomes a felony homicide.
As my geeky husband Saint Sam is always reminding me, numbers do not lie. If we value the sanctity of life, we must value the sanctity of women’s lives. It’s time to face reality. To those who say “guns don’t kill, people kill” my response is, “men use guns to kill women.”
An after-thought to ponder: how many of those states also fall into the geography of haters? Coincidence?
Children and guns. Two words, when combined, are a family’s worst nightmare.
Gun deaths of children are like domestic violence. It is pervasive throughout every strata of society. Law enforcement and law violators. Close-knit families and fractured families. Urban houses and rural farms. Wealthy and poor. Law-abiding gun owners who have attempted to store their firearms safely and law-abiding gun owners who are negligent.
Gun deaths of children are more likely to be accidental and done by other children. The greatest tragedy is that all gun deaths of children by children could have been prevented. And now it is too late.
Children – those who are accidentally shot and those who accidentally shoot – are the truly innocent victims of preventable gun violence. It doesn’t matter which side of the gun debate you choose. We all must ask ourselves: Am I willing to do what it takes on an issue that can be prevented?
This has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week in the United States. Thankfully, I don’t have television so I don’t hear the shameful, ignorant rants, but it is difficult to miss them in the online news headlines.
Racism is alive and well. If there was ever any doubt, it was revived with the outpouring of tactless racist remarks about a Miss America contestant winner. That these remarks are made in the 21st century is appalling! We are nation built on the breadth and depth of immigrants and their cultures and yet we cannot celebrate or even be gracious about one woman’s achievement.
Mass shootings (yes, plural) are another daily occurrence. Ho hum. The Washington Navy Yard shooting claimed twelve lives. The Chicago park shooting claimed three lives and twenty-three were wounded. Those were the mass shootings. Then there were the usual daily shootings – murder-suicides, homicides, accidents, suicides, drive-bys – that happen daily, devastating the lives of families and communities. And we go on, impervious to gun violence.
The growing disconnect between those in power and the rest of us. We learned this week that three percent of the population are millionaires and more than sixty percent of Congress are millionaires (aka Hillionaires). Most in Congress have no idea about the financial insecurity that is now the new norm for most Americans. They demonstrated the fullness of their disconnect when they slashed SNAP from the budget and passed a budget after removing funds for the Affordable Care Act (for the 41st time!) without even having the facts or talking seriously with their constituents who are the working poor and uninsured. I guarantee if they spent even one day in the life of one of their constituents, their eyes would be open to reality for most people.
I think God must grieve when God sees the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad way we treat one another and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad way our elected officials treat those whom they have been elected to serve. Scripture is full of passages that provide guidance, but one passage has been on my heart all week:
Do not plan harm against your neighbor who lives trustingly beside you. Do not quarrel with anyone without cause, when no harm has been done to you. Do not envy the violent and do not choose any of their ways. ~ Proverbs 3:29-21
or the same passage from a contemporary version, The Voice:
Make no plans that could result in injury to your neighbor; after all, he should be more secure because he lives near you. Avoid fighting with anyone without good reason, especially when no one has hurt you; you have nothing to fight about. Do not envy someone who profits at the expense of others or copy any of his tyrannical ways.
I know it’s been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week and most of us are worn down trying to put food on our tables, pay our bills, find gainful employment, deal with grief and heartache, and everything else required to live life this side of eternity. May we be faithful and hopeful as we pray:
Source and goal of community, whose will it is that all your people enjoy fullness of life: may we be builders of community, caring for your good earth here and worldwide and as partners with the poor, signs of your ever friendly love; that we may delight in diversity and choose solidarity for you are in community with us our God forever. Amen. ~ Unknown
What should schools, sanctuaries and Starbucks have in common? Here’s your hint: there was an outpouring of opinion with Starbuck’s recent announcement.
First, my confession. I have never been a fan of firearms. Maybe it has something to do with being shot at multiple times while making a home visit on a Special Forces troop when I was working as a Chaplain for the Department of the Army. I can say with all certainty that the MP dispatched to follow me saved my life. I had no idea what that sound was that caused me to jump as the MP is yelling, “Hey Chap! Get down!” while tackling me and returning fire!
Or maybe it was the time when a young man walked into my church office with a knife and gun, obviously agitated about something. My office on the church campus was isolated from the rest of the staff offices.
Then again, it may have been the 30 self-inflicted gunshot victims I saw when I arrived on the scene. The youngest was 13 and the oldest was 87. My uncle and brother are not included in those numbers.
Of course, the gang shoot out behind my UCLA apartment, the shattered lives of parents in the Parents of Murdered Children group I facilitated or the blind date with the police officer who laid his firearm on the truck seat all got filed away in the deep recesses of my memory. And these few stories aren’t even all of my gun stories! With every new mass shooting, with every new suicide of a family member, friend or stranger, with every new homicide these buried memories are resurrected to remind me of the reality of gun violence.
My other confession is I am now distrustful of anyone and everyone who handles, owns, and legally carries a firearm. I know that even the most sane and competent person can have an impulsive moment. And IF a firearm is available, there are no guarantees that they will not use that firearm in an impulsive moment.
As a parent, I never thought about asking parents of their friends if there were firearms in the house. I never thought that a teacher would be allowed to carry a firearm in the school. I never considered that a parishioner at a church where I was preaching would have a weapon on their person. Now I look at every one of those situations and wonder, “Do they carry a firearm?” I’ll be sitting in my car at a traffic light and look over to the car and driver on my left and wonder if that person has a gun.
These are all learned behaviors. Experience teaches us and we learn from those experiences. Just as I learned to look and see who the registered sex offenders were in my neighborhood and around the churches I served, I am tempted to see if anyone I know has a concealed carry permit*. I know with all certainty, that if I was still raising children, I would never allow them to attend a school where any teacher or staff person was allowed to have a firearm while on school premises. I would never serve in or attend in church where firearms are allowed. My children would not be playing at any friends’ homes where there are firearms.
I, for one, am thankful that Starbucks is considering their customers’ concerns for safety and declaring their establishments gun-free zones. None of us can control what happens around us and declaring a place a gun-free zone does not guarantee there won’t be a gun violence incident. But I can make my own pink bubble a gun-free zone and do business in gun-free zones.
Guns do not belong in schools, sanctuaries, or Starbucks or even on our streets.
* Many places prohibit the release of records related to Concealed Carry Weapons (CCW) holders and applicants to the public. Just as most of us don’t know that the manufacturer of the assault weapon used in the Newtown mass shooting donated one million dollars ($1M) to the NRA this past spring. Blind persons in Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Texas are allowed to carry firearms. When will we get serious about gun violence as a public health issue?
I wasn’t even finished reading a New York Times article on the growing divide in the gun debate when an alert came across my iPad about the Washington navy yard shootings. My outloud comment to no one but God was, “Another senseless massacre that won’t change anything. We continue to invite evil to dwell among us.”
We will never have a perfect society or a perfect anything this side of eternity. But inspite of that, we are still commanded to address and alleviate those things we can do something about. Jesus said, “For you always have the poor with you” (Matthew 26:11), and yet scripture is full of admonitions to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and take care of “the least of these.” Our efforts won’t alleviate all poverty, hunger, or illness, but it will make things better for everyone over the long haul.
Reducing gun violence is one of those areas we can do something about. Universal background checks would help reduce gun violence. Removing assault weapons and the rapid loading/rapid firing capabilities would help reduce mass shooting capabilities and thus reduce gun violence. These are just common sense measures that don’t take away anyone’s right to legally own a firearm and still, with little effort, will reduce the amount of gun violence in the United States.
The more difficult issues that contribute to gun violence, but that aren’t so easy to address are mental illness, domestic violence, and substance abuse. Poverty and joblessness can also be added to that list. Usually there are a combination of these challenging factors that increase the possibility of escalating gun violence. Yet, just because they are more challenging does not absolve us from our responsibility to address underlying issues that contribute or exacerbate these issues – like poverty, access to mental health services, education, a living wage, and economic stability.
What price are we willing to incur by not addresses reducing gun violence and deflecting mental illness, domestic violence, and substance abuse from any substantive dialogue? We continue to invite evil to dwell among us when we don’t a serious effort to reduce gun violence or a serious effort to address issues that contribute to gun violence.
I was updating the list of Gun Deaths Since Newtown and I noticed the names of three year-old girl and five year-old sisters. Their 33 year-old mother was also listed. I was struck because I have two precious granddaughters who are 3 and 5 and my son, their father is 33. I decided to take a look and see how many gun deaths on that list were people who were the same ages as people in my immediate family.
Five hundred forty-four (544) names later, here is what I found. I only selected gender and ages that corresponded to the gender and age of my family member. For example, my Dad is 79. There were 10 names of 79 year-olds, but only 4 were male. I recorded only 4 for his age group, even though there were 6 more 79 year-olds who died from being shot by a firearm.
My Dad, 79 = 4 male gun deaths My Mom, 78 = 3 female gun deaths Me, 56 = 12 female gun deaths My sister, 55 = 15 female gun deaths My brother who was 52 when he died from self-inflicted gunshot = 105 male gun deaths My husband, 48 = 67 male gun deaths My son, 35 = 120 male gun deaths My son, 33 = 171 male gun deaths My daughter-in-law, 34 = 31 female gun deaths My granddaughter, 8 = 5 female child gun deaths My granddaughter, 5 = 6 female child gun deaths My granddaughter, 3 = 5 female child gun deaths
Five hundred forty-four gun deaths – plus the twelve massacred at the navy yard and all the other gun deaths since December 14, 2014 – that we all bear responsibility for because we continue to invite evil to dwell among us.
When someone is shot with a firearm, whether they survive or die, someone inevitably says, “They were in the wrong place at the wrong time.” But when Colin Goddard was shot in his Virginia Tech classroom April 16, 2007. He was exactly where he was supposed to be: in class. So were the 32 other students and professors who died and the 17 others who were injured. They were exactly where they were exactly where they were supposed to be.
What was wrong was that a mentally ill person had a firearm on a campus. What was also wrong is that firearms are easily acquired at gun shows and privately in many states without any background check whatsoever.
I assumed all states required background checks for purchasing any firearm. I had no idea that only a handful of states require any background checks at all! The majority of states do not require any background checks. Most employers require some sort of background check prior to hiring, but there are no background checks for firearms?!? Something is seriously wrong.
I don’t know about you, but I think the right places for people to be safe from gun violence is in their school, on their campus, in their sanctuaries of worship, in the home, in their neighborhood, on the road, at a parade, in their places of employment, at a movie theater or any other place where they deserve to be.
It’s time to rethink what we say and not re-victimize someone who was right where they we meant to be. It’s time to consider that the wrong person with a firearm is in the wrong place. Period.
Every day I update my list of gun deaths since Newtown. There are nearly 7,000 gun deaths listed from my Slate source. It’s an incomplete list, only drawing from what is reported in the media. Nevertheless, as I was posting the names, ages, city and state of these gun deaths throughout July, it seemed like there were more than any previous month in 2013. Of course, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to look more closely at the data for July 2013, even though it is definitely incomplete. As of the writing of this post, there were 1,038 gun deaths in July 2013, second only to January (1095 gun deaths). That’s roughly 16 percent of the gun deaths so far in 2013. Here are some other breakdowns of July’s statistics:
Female – 14% Male – 86%
0-12 years (16) – 1.5% 12-17 years (52) – 5% 18-19 years (53) – 5% 20-29 years (614) – 59% 30-39 years (197) – 19% 40-49 years (132) – 12.7% 50-50 years (61) – 5.8% 60-69 years (28) – 2.6% 70 and older (47) – 4.5% (the oldest was 95!)
Unknown Name – 47% (Often minor children’s names are NOT listed.)
Unknown Name and Age – 11%. Nothing is known about these poor souls.
According the the Brady Campaign*: Every day, 282 people in America are shot in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, accidents, and police intervention. Every day, 86 people die from gun violence: 32 are murdered; 51 kill themselves; 2 die accidentally; 1 the intent is unknown. Every day, 196 are shot and survive: 140 shot in an assault; 10 survive a suicide attempt; 43 are shot accidentally, 2 are shot in a police intervention. If we were to use these statistics to extrapolate more realistic numbers for gun deaths only in July 2013, we’d begin to see a very different story of lives lost and families changed by gun violence:
July 2013 gun deaths from crowdsourced media: 1,038 Averaged monthly gun deaths: 2,666 (86 gun deaths/day x 31 days)
The breakdown for a month would look like this:
62 die accidentally
31 intent unknown
I know numbers make most of us glaze over or they’re numbers we have a difficult time relating to. But what if you were to look at the numbers in relation to something you can relate to, like your friends on Facebook? If I have 60 friends on Facebook and I related it to one of these numbers, roughly all 60 would die from accidental gunshot in one month! Half would die without knowing why! Many have more than 100 friends on Facebook. If roughly 86 people die each day from guns, how many days before all of your friends on Facebook would be dead! Grizzly and scary when you put it in relatable terms. Numbers and statistics are impersonal and separate us from the real lives impacted. We must never lose sight of the fact that each number relates to one person who dies. And each person who dies was connected to a family, a network of friends and co-workers – a greater circle of people whose lives are irrevocably altered because of the misuse of a firearm.
*The Brady Campaign averaged the most recent three years of data from death certificates (2008-2010) and estimates of emergency room admissions (2009-2011) available via CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control’s Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System, www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars/. Data retrieved 12/28/12. Numbers may not sum to 100% because of rounding. **Estimate may be unstable.
Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight. Surely everyone stands as a mere breath.
For I am your passing guest, an alien, like all my forebears (Psalm 39:4-4, 12).
Before he died, my brother talked to my cousin Heidi about getting together for an all-family fishing trip to Paulina Lake in Oregon. You know how that goes. You usually talk about it and then when it gets down to finding a date that works for everyone, it doesn’t materialize.
We lived in California and the rest of my parents’ families lived in Oregon. Every summer, we’d go to Oregon for a two week family vacation. One week was devoted to seeing relatives. The other week was devoted to fishing either in Pacific City or Paulina Lake with my Mom’s side of the family.
It was an annual tradition my grandparents, my Uncle Gary’s family and our family looked forward to every year while I was growing up. Even after my cousins and I started having children, we’d still meet at Paulina every few years. If I wasn’t able to come, Grandma would bring my two sons up with her. Gradually, our individual families made their own plans as it became impossible to coordinate so many schedules.
When Heidi, my other cousin Tom and Uncle Gary were here for Vic’s memorial service in December, Heidi brought Paulina up again. We weren’t sure we’d be given any ashes to scatter, but regardless it would be a fitting final tribute to Vic to gather the family together for a fishing trip. By the end of January, we had the dates set, the cabins booked, and everyone cleared for vacation. Four generations of our family were going fishing at Paulina Lake in honor of Vic.
Vic would have loved everything about the week. He loved to fish, he loved a good time, and he loved family. He was unabashedly emotional, usually being the first to tear up, and there was plenty of that from the rest of us. I felt like I was channeling him helping my granddaughters reel in their first fish or seeing the cigars light up on our boats as anchors were dropped or one of our boats trolled by. He was an epic storyteller, and now his nephew and second cousins have taken up the mantle. We laughed so hard we cried. Everyone (except me) caught fish. The third and fourth generations beat the first and second generations in our fishing derby by a long shot. We taught them well (smile).
Vic used to tell people I married and buried people and he got the free family rate. I did officiate his wedding (which he, Tom, my sister and I cried through), but never thought I’d be officiating his memorial services. As with Grandma, Vic’s was a privilege even though it was very difficult.
Death is a part of life. We often don’t think enough of our life and even less of death. The loss of someone close to you is a bittersweet reminder of just how precious are our lives. It’s a reminder of what is important, like relationships and family, and treasuring all that we’ve been given.
Our last full day together was selected as our time for Vic’s celebration. It was a beyond-gorgeous day, the lake as smooth as glass. We loaded up in our five boats, forming a flotilla as we crossed the lake. Dad’s boat led our procession, each of us with our own thoughts. We beached and walked a short distance to a small beach just large enough for us to gather. Vic would have been so touched that we did this, honoring him and all that he meant to us.
My son Luke played Gershwin’s Summertime on his trumpet as we scattered Vic’s ashes. A monarch butterfly fluttered among us, starting with Dad, as we were concluding. A poignant reminder of God’s transforming love and that nothing, absolutely nothing can ever separate us from God’s eternal love.
And so we said farewell to Vic for now. No doubt he will be waiting for each of us, in our own time, with a string of fish, a cigar, and a welcoming hug.
Unto God’s gracious mercy and protection we commit you, Vic. The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift his countenance upon you, and give you peace, both now and evermore. Amen.
The summer solstice has passed. We are officially in summer, verified by today’s temperature of 108! The calendar year has passed it’s halfway mark. Sam and I have been back in California six months. I just entered the the 865th name from gun deaths for June alone. My family will be be making a pilgrimage to Paulina Lake in Oregon to scatter my brother’s ashes in two weeks.
It’s been an intense six months. I thought I’d share some interesting highlights from my blog that might give some insight into these last six months.
Most Viewed Post: As with most things in life, we find ourselves serendipitously drawn to certain things because of experiences or circumstances we encounter in the normal course of living. That’s what happened for me with gun deaths. As we were leaving the church where I officiated my brother’s memorial service, the horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was happening. Two events on two coasts bookended by gun violence.
I started Gun Deaths Since Newtown at the end of April as a way to honor the thousands of children, women, and men who died from gun violence. Congress had shamelessly failed to pass responsible, common sense legislation proven to reduce gun violence. This post alone had nearly 500 unique views! I update the list every day and there are over 5,000 gun deaths since January 1, 2013!
Most Dramatic Post: Grief exposes the cracks or chasms in families. I’ve explored some of those tensions in a couple of posts, but Made for TV Family Dramahas exceeded all the other grief posts put together. It seems that many people have similar family issues.
Most Difficult Post: My brother’s death shocked all of us. Suicide always does. I shared my homily from my brother’s service in When Your Brother Dies. Words are always inadequate, but it’s all we have when we gather to celebrate a life. Several hundred people were at his service, but I think this post was shared with many who were not able to attend or who found out about his death later.
Most Surprising Post: Sometimes I write posts knowing the topic is not something many people will read. I still write it because someone needs to say these things and I might be the only person in someone’s circle who will say something. Asking Saves Kids was one of those topics. I was truly shocked when the number of views kept increasing! Apparently it hit a nerve.
Testing Trends: I have been working on a really exciting project that we hope to launch around September 1. It’s been a HUGE undertaking. We’re calling it Daily Word and you’ll see some sneak peeks in due time. In the meantime, I thank my testing team because they’re testing is a trend for Eternal Scheme!
I had a litany of questions I asked other parents in preparation for my sons going over to play. I raised my children in the dark ages, back when they walked or road their bikes to go play at friends’ houses. If I didn’t know the parents or the house, inevitably I’d call the parent and ask:
Is there a dog?
Is there a fence around the pool?
Who else is invited to play?
Is there a safety lock on the medicine cabinet?
Will you be there?
I never thought to ask if there was a firearm where the kids would be playing or if there were guns of any sort at the house!
The first day of summer, June 21, is ASK Day. Kids are out of school and play more often in other homes. ASK Day, Asking Saves Kids, is to remind parents nationwide about the importance of asking if there are guns where their kids play.
Here are some startling facts:
An average of 8 kids and teens are killed by firearms every day and 42 additional children and teens are seriously injured (Injury Mortality Reports, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC, 2010; 2011).
27 children and teens are seriously injured by BB or pellet guns every day (Injury Mortality Reports, 2011).
Studies show that between 33% and 40% of American households with children have guns (Johnson, Renee, “Firearm Ownership and Storage Practices, U.S. Households, 1992-2002.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 27, 2004; Peter Hart Research Associates Poll, 1999, American Journal of Public Health, April 2000).
1 in 4 kids and teens whose parents own guns say they have seen or touched a gun without their parents’ knowledge. (Global Strategy Group Youth Study commissioned by CPYV, 2011).
Almost 90 percent of accidental shootings involving children are linked to an easy-to-find, loaded handgun in the house (Society of Pediatric Nurses, 1998).
80% of the children who are injured or killed in unintentional shootings are shot in their own homes or in the homes of relatives or friends (Pediatrics 2005).
42% of parents with guns keep at least one unlocked; 25% keep at least one loaded, and 14% keep one unlocked AND loaded (Global Strategy Group Parent Study commissioned by CPYV, 2011).
Over 75% of kids in homes with guns say they know where the gun is hidden (Benenson Strategy Group Study commissioned by PAX, July 2002).
It’s hard to believe that over 5,030 gun deaths* since the mass shooting in Newtown on December 14, 2012 is under-reported. But it is. That’s like an entire large high school being wiped out or my entire undergraduate class of graduates at UCLA being annihilated.
The story of gun deaths is also under-reported because approximately 60-percent of all gun deaths are suicide. Suicides are rarely reported. The data captured in Gun Deaths Since Newtownis culled from media sources soon after they are published. Murder-suicides are reported, but solo suicides almost never.
The most recent estimates from the CDC for yearly gun deaths is slightly over 30,000. A more accurate picture of actual gun deaths as of June 20, 2013 is around 15, 687. Compare the more realistic estimate (15,687) with what is reported in the Slate gun tally (5,030) and you see just how under-told the story of gun violence really is in the United States.
It’s been six months since the gun deaths of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty-two other people also lost their lives to gun death and my brother’s memorial service, also a gun death, was that day.
Since December 14, 2012, there have been close to 6,000 gun deaths according to Slate magazine and the Twitter feed @Gun Deaths. There have been 14 mass shootings since Newtown. That’s more than one mass shooting per month since December! It’s an average of 28 shooting per day.
The shootings tell a familiar story that is becoming a trend in our county. Besides suicides, domestic violence is the most common reason for shootings. The gunman begins by shooting his spouse, partner, or another family member. Often the gunman has a history of violence or a criminal record.
December 20, 2012, Blair County, PA: Jeffrey Lee Michael, 44, went on a shooting rampage that ended in a church, killing three and injuring three state troopers. Police confiscated an arsenal of ammunition and guns from his house. He had his girlfriend purchase the guns and ammunition because a restraining order was out against him.
December 24, 2012, Webster, NY: Ex-con, William Spengler, 64, killed two and shot three. He had previously murdered his grandmother with a hammer.
January 21, 2013, Albuquerque, NM: Teen Nehemiah Griego, 15, shot and killed his parents and three siblings with his parents’ .22 caliber rifle and another semi-automatic rifle. He intended to shoot up a WalMart, but changed his mind. He confessed to the shooting and explained he had “anger issues.”
January 30, 2013, Phoenix, AZ: Known to be extremely paranoid with anger issues, Arthur Douglas Harmon, 70, shot into an office building. Two people were killed and a bystander was injured. He later killed himself.
February 19, 2013, Orange County, CA: Twenty-year-old college student, Ali Syed, shot and killed four people during the morning commute. He had sought help for ADHD, panic disorder and anxiety from the student health department. He left a suicide note explaining how he planned the massacre.
March 13, 2013, Herkimer, NY: Kurt Myers, 64, opened fire on a barbershop and car wash, killing four and injuring two. He had 50 rounds of ammunition on him and another 45 round in his car when he was killed in a shoot out with police.
April 18, 2013, Akron, OH: Two men and two women were shot execution style in a townhouse where students were having a post-production party. Two felons have been charged with aggravated murder, kidnapping, robbery, and illegal possession of firearms.
April 21, 2013, Seattle, WA: Dennis Clark, III shot his girlfriend Justine Baez before killing three other random people. Clark had a concealed handgun license, but had previous clashes with police over domestic violence.
April 24, 2013, Manchester, IL: Rick O. Smith, 43, had a criminal history of homicide, drugs, and writing bad checks. He shot and killed a family of five. One six-year old girl survived.
May 12, 2013, New Orleans, LA: Akein Scott, 19, injured 19 people ata Mother’s Day parade. He had recently made bail for charges for illegal gun and herion possession. He had two recent prior arrests for possession of stolen guns and extended clips.
May 25, 2013, Hampton, VA: Two teens, 15 and 17, have been charged with the shooting death of 16-year-old Ralphael Davis and injuring several other teens at a carnival.
May 26, 2013, Concho County, TX: Active duty Marine, Esteban Smith, shot and killed his wife in a motel room before going on a shooting spree that killed another woman and wounded five others. He was in possession of an assault rifle, handgun, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
June 7, 2013, Santa Monica, CA: John Zawahri shot and killed his father and brother before burning down his house and indiscriminately shooting several other people. He had a history of mental illness and enough ammunition to kill more than 100 people.
June 13, 2013, St. Louis, MO: Two men and two women died in a murder-suicide in an office building. There was a semi-automatic gun at the scene.
We hear about mass shootings, but there are countless children, teens, women, and men who are shot and killed everyday who never make the national news. Neighborhoods and communities, schools and churches, homes and offices are all witnesses to the devastation, destruction, and disruption of gun deaths.
The resiliency of the human spirit is awe-inspiring. We have an incredible capacity to function in the midst of less-than-ideal circumstances. Somehow we pull it together and keep plodding until we emerge from the mists of disaster.
That’s not to say we don’t have our moments and wonder exactly how we will survive. Death, illness, divorce, parenting, chemical and emotional dependencies, unemployment, failed plans, accidents, natural disaster, loneliness, war – the list is as endless as we are unique – are common to all of us. Even though we know there are others who have experienced and survived similar experiences, it’s common to feel alone and isolated. It’s a fine line between setting ourself apart for healing and reaching out or coming alongside someone for help.
Writing blog posts about gun deaths has brought me into contact with some really incredible people. These are parents, friends, spouses, children, colleagues, neighbors, and grandparents of people you have lost loved ones in murder/suicides, drive-by shootings, suicide, accidents, even homicides. Most of us don’t anticipate having to say goodbye to someone we love killed by a firearm. Yet, most of these courageous people look for and find something meaningful as a way to honor the one they love, motivated by the fact they don’t want their loved one’s death to have been in vain.
Receiving help and finding ways to help others when the time is right brings both closure and meaning to something difficult. I’m the first to acknowledge that many people who want to be helpful aren’t helpful at all. When you’re in the abyss, the last thing you want to do is deal with unhelpful people. However, there usually are a tiny handful of trusted confidants who will listen and be truly helpful with practical things while you heal.
In my post, Life Goes On, I mentioned a passage of scripture that speaks to the unique position someone who’s “been there”.
Blessed be … the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God (II Corinthians 1:3-4).
Sometimes something gets lost in translation and that’s what happens in this passage. This letter to the church in Corinth was written in the vernacular language, Koine Greek. Paraklesis is the Koine Greek word we translate for console. The literal translation is called alongside. In other words, God comes alongside us to comfort us in our distress. We, in turn, are then called to come alongside another to bring comfort to someone else in their distress.
I’ve always said that God’s choicest counselors are those “who have been there”. Someone who’s gone through something similar as you knows what was helpful and what wasn’t. You, in turn, will be able to share your insights and practical tips to someone else. Heartfelt support or help is a precious gift both to receive and to give.
It would be nice if the resiliency of our human spirit didn’t have to be so tested, leaving us to wonder if we really will be able to go one with our life. But alas, that’s not to be this side of eternity. Instead, in those time, may we lean into the strong arms of God and others who come alongside to comfort us. And may we take our own turn to come alongside another when they are in need of a caring soul.
I discovered something interesting when reviewing the analytics for my blog. There are several things I review, but since posting the names of gun deaths since Newtown I have had a huge increase in traffic. I had an idea why but decided to delve further into the search data to see if my hunch was confirmed. It was.
Gun violence falls into six categories:
Every death by gun falls into one of these categories. Every death is a senseless, heart-breaking loss. Families and friends gather as much information as they can to try and make sense of such a tragic loss.
Why would a 13-year old boy shoot himself in the woods behind the middle school just before class was to begin?
Why would a brother murder his brother’s girlfriend in the house where his brother had committed suicide the day before, and then take his own life?
Who would indiscriminately open fire on a group of girls as they are walking to a friend’s house for an end-of-school-year sleep-over?
We are so stunned when we hear such terrible news that we ask questions and search for information to find out why. We want to believe that if we knew why, we would then understand, and maybe if we understood, we’d somehow be able to compartmentalize this tragedy or separate ourselves. We never want to be faced with, “That could have been me!” or “What did I miss?”
I’ve searched on most of the names of the more than 5,000 gun deaths since Newtown trying to make sense of such tragedy … and I don’t even know these souls. The information is brief and there is very little follow up.
It’s been six months since my brother’s death and I’m still asking questions and trying to make sense of something that will never make sense. It’s probably much the same with those searching online to see if there are any clues as to why something so awful happened to someone they know and love.
Unfortunately, there rarely are answers for the whys of life. We can gather information, pour over the data, surmise possibilities, even construct some theories, but we will never fully know or understand. We may never stop asking why, but at some point we will accept it’s harsh reality, move through our grief, and learn to live with the emptiness left by our loss.
Eternal Scheme may not have any information as to why, but I do know that each name represents a sacred life lost to gun violence. My prayers are with all who grieve.
Healing is an interesting concept. If healing is defined as “the process of becoming whole,” then once we’re through (healed of) whatever suffering we’re undergoing, we will be whole again. In the case of a common cold, once we’re healed, we don’t have any lingering effects and we feel like our old selves again.
A physical injury is a little different. When you tear your ACL, for example, surgery is usually required to regain full mobility and reduce pain. After an agonizing surgery and grueling physical therapy you are pronounced healed. You can probably do most of what you were able to do before the tear, but you’re not quite 100 percent all of the time. There may be residual discomfort or minor limitations. You’re better, but it’s different. You’re healed, but you aren’t where you were before the injury.
Emotional or psychological injury and chronic illness present another aspect to healing. Sometimes, no matter what you do or want, you will never be the same. Instead you learn how to move differently in your new world.
If you’re diagnosed with diabetes, for example, you must learn to manage your health and activities in a different way. Maybe you are also dependent on medication and that now you must be diligent in taking it correctly. You will never be cured from diabetes, but you can be healed. When you take responsibility for managing your diabetes and changing your lifestyle to optimize your health; you transform the your experience. Instead of the disease having control over you, you now have control over your disease. Many even find meaning in their illness.
Loss and grief also offer lessons in healing. Sometimes I think the essence of life is learning to negotiate loss and live with grief. We lose lots of things in the course of life: our childhood, relationships, jobs, health, and people. Loss precipitates grief and some griefs are easier to heal from than others. Just as deep wound takes time because it must heal from the inside out, so it is with healing from a deep loss. Our hearts will heal, but the emotional scar tissue that remains is a reminder to us of our loss.
Just as recuperating from an illness or injury is no fun, there can be some really unpleasant aspects to healing. There are no shortcuts to healing. Healing takes its own time and has its own process. It’s different for every one.
You will heal. There is hope. Your life will go on. And you will be in an unique position to help others … to be continued.
God heals the broken-hearted, and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3).
Here are a few interesting facts to keep the issue of gun deaths in perspective. You can also bookmark Gun Deaths Since Newtown to keep up on the names, ages, city and state of gun related deaths since the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. I update this list daily as information becomes available.
There have been more gun deaths since the Newtown shooting December 14, 2012 than the total number of U.S. military casualties in the nine-year Iraq war. According to Slate’s gun death tracker, there have been more than 4,499 gun deaths since Newtown. The U.S. military reported there have been 4,409 military personnel killed in Iraq.
There have been more gun deaths since the Newtown shooting December 14, 2012 than auto-related deaths in 12 states and the District of Columbia in 2010, the most recent data on gun deaths from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2010, there were 31,672 firearm deaths and 35,498 motor vehicle deaths nationally, compared to 28,874 firearm deaths and 42,624 motor vehicle deaths in 1999. What makes these figures so compelling is that 90 percent of American households own at least one car, but only about one-third of households own a firearm.
Listed below are the 2010 gun vs. auto death stats for the 12 states and District of Columbia:
Alaska: 144 gun deaths, 71 motor vehicle deaths
Arizona: 931 gun deaths, 795 motor vehicle deaths
Colorado: 555 gun deaths, 487 motor vehicle deaths
District of Columbia: 99 gun deaths, 38 motor vehicle deaths
Illinois: 1,064 gun deaths, 1,042 motor vehicle deaths
Louisiana: 864 gun deaths, 722 motor vehicle deaths
Maryland: 538 gun deaths, 514 motor vehicle deaths
Michigan: 1,076 gun deaths, 1,063 motor vehicle deaths
Nevada: 395 gun deaths, 289 motor vehicle deaths
Oregon: 458 gun deaths, 324 motor vehicle deaths
Utah: 314 gun deaths, 274 motor vehicle deaths
Virginia: 875 gun deaths, 728 motor vehicle deaths
Washington: 609 gun deaths, 554 motor vehicle deaths
Firearm deaths continue to go up while auto-related deaths go down. Hmm…
I’m reading Isabel Allende’s latest work of fiction, Maya’s Notebook. Maya is being raised by her grandmother, Nini, and grandfather, Popo. When Popo dies, Maya’s life completely unravels and she’s caught in the crosshairs of a gang of assassins, the police, the FBI, and Interpol. Nini sends her to a remote island off the coast of Chile with a notebook. It’s here and in the pages of her notebook, she tries to piece together the truth of her life.
She writes this in her notebook not long after she arrives in Chile:
My grandmother would say I’m giving my soul time to catch up to me in Chiloé. She thinks jet travel is not advisable because the soul travels more slowly than the body, falls behind, and sometimes gets lost along the way; that must be the reason why pilots, like my dad, are never entirely present: they’re waiting for their soul, which ends up in the clouds.
Hope, along with healing and help, are lifelines that tether us so we don’t get lost in the great void of awfulness. Hope promises that the extended outcome will change; that we’re not abandoned in the temporary abyss where we feel swallowed up; that things will get better.
There are two maxims that have served me throughout the innumerable unexpected happenings of my life: (1) It’s temporary; (2) Something good will come of it.
Nothing, absolutely nothing this side of eternity, stays the same. Everything changes either in it’s own time or when acted upon by outside forces. The weather is a constant reminder of the fickleness of forecasts. If I get caught in an unexpected storm of awfulness, I know it’s just a matter of time before the clouds part and I will see the sun again. Sometimes I play little games with myself and embark on an daily treasure hunt of something that’s changed. Maybe I notice a spider’s web that wasn’t there earlier or a new blossoms on a plant on my walk route. Even the awfulness I’m now experiencing is temporary and it will change.
I’ve had the privilege of listening in as people share (it’s more like wailing and railing) the awfulnesses of their lives. Many came back later and shared what blessings they discovered once they got some distance from and had moved through the awfulness. Although they would have rather bypassed the awfulness, they discovered that their character had been deepened or something positive was added to their life as a result of the awfulness. They reported now having a deeper understanding and new wisdom as a result of surviving the temporary awfulness.
The resiliency of the human spirit is awe-inspiring. Hope makes it possible for life to go on. Healing is next … to be continued.
I would be remiss if I didn’t share one of my favorite scriptures on hope:
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:21-23).
Devastating tornados. A ten-year old killed and her parents injured when her house was riddled with bullets. A soldier is hacked to death with a cleaver in front of witnesses on a city street. Most of us are less than six-degrees of separation from the endless stream of violence, death, and destruction engulfing our globe.
A newer, more graphic story replaces the previous tragedy so quickly that a completely new array of headlines surfaces each time you refresh your screen. The names, locations, and details may change, but the drama continues. We’re aware, but not observant unless a particular tragedy swirls within our purview. We’re affected, but don’t have time to deconstruct each tragedy’s damage, before the next wave comes along.
Life goes on, but it’s not the same. There’s a shift in us and a new experience threads itself in the tapestry of our lives.
It’s been almost six months since my brother’s death. I have experienced grief and all of its nuanced forms hundreds of times, but my brother’s self-inflicted gun shot pierced my heart in a new place. I may appear to be as I was before his death, but I’m not the same. Yes, my life has gone on, but it is different. It must be different because someone who was an integral part of who I am is now no longer a vital part of my life. His death, in addition to his life, is now woven into the new narrative of my life.
That’s how it is for every single person who is impacted by violence, death, illness, suffering, and destruction. Life temporarily stops with The Event. Family and friends rally around. The Event and it’s aftermath run their course. Family and friends resume their lives. Eventually you resume your changed life.
While it’s not the same for everyone, I believe there are three attributes that can sustain us as we merge back into the current of life: hope, healing, and help. Consider this post the introduction and I will explore each in more depth in subsequent blog posts.
In the meantime, cogitate on this:
Blessed be … the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God (II Corinthians 1:3-4).
Carve out a few minutes every day to pray for – meditate on, be thoughtful or mindful of – others who are going through something similar to you. (As news of my brother’s death circulated, so many people I knew had a family member, spouse or partner, or close friend who died by suicide.) You don’t need to know them. Maybe you saw a headline or heard about someone. Write down their name and pray for them.
The father of a four year-old New Jersey boy could possibly face prison time for the accidental gun death of his son’s six year-old friend. More than a month after the accidental shooting, the father has been arrested. He is charged with five counts of second-degree child endangerment (for storing the five unsecured firearms in a place that was accessible to his children) and one count of third-degree child endangerment (for for storing one of the firearms in a place that endangered the welfare of the six year-old who was killed). If convicted, this father could face up to 50 years in prison.
Not every state has child endangerment laws for accidental gun deaths. Kentucky, for example, does not. Texas does, but it is rarely enforced. Common sense dictates that firearms be locked and stored away where children and young people do not have access. Common sense also tells us that a loaded firearm is not wise in any household with children and adolescents. Sadly, carelessness prevails more often than common sense.
Gun injuries kill an average of 18 children or young adults every day. That’s the second- leading cause of death in children and young adults, accidental injury being first. That’s more than cancer, diseases, infections, and the like. The United States has more firearm suicides, homicides, and unintentional deaths than any other high income country. Another startling fact from an international study is, among American children 5 to 14, firearm suicides were five times higher, and deaths from unintentional firearms injuries is ten times higher than other high-income countries. Among depressed adolescent less than 5 percent of of suicide attempts involving drugs is fatal, but 90 percent of attempts using firearms is fatal.
Parents already have a long list of things to consider when allowing their children to go off with another friend. Have I met their parents and been to their house? Is there a secured gate around the swimming pool? Will an adult be present? Who’s driving? With the overwhelming number of gun accidents involving children and the unbelievable number of careless adults with firearms, all parents need to consider adding another question to their checklist: Are there firearms in the house?
8.3 percent stored at least one gun unlocked and loaded
41.7 percent of the time firearms were left unlocked in households with adolescents ages 13 to 17
I’m not for criminalizing careless behavior, however, maybe an enforced child endangerment law will help people think twice about following responsible firearm protocol. Sadly we cannot guarantee there will be no tragedies. But we can lower the incidence of tragedy begetting tragedy.
Gun Deaths Since Newtown is updated daily to reflect the latest crowdsourced data of names, ages, city, and state of gun deaths in the United States.
There have been more than 4,000 gun deaths since the mass shooting at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. You can follow the updated list of names, ages, and locations. I update the list daily as new information comes in. I also update previous unknowns as those names and/or ages are made public.
The New York City Employees’ Retirement System announced they are divesting itself from publicly traded stock of gun and ammunition manufacturers. That’s over $16 million pulled from the gun industry. New York followed California’s lead when the nation’s biggest public pension fund, CalPERS, voted to sell all of it’s investment in Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. and Sturm, Ruger & Co. California State Teachers’ Retirement System, the country’s second-largest government retirement plan, was the first that took action selling off gun industry stock.
When I see the names of all of those teens and children, I think of the mothers whose hearts will be breaking this Mother’s Day. Many of the names of adults are murder-suicides, families who lose everyone with one gun. Suicides account for almost a majority of gun death. What are we doing about mental health resources? Then there are the innocent people caught in the line of a stray bullet and the accidents because someone was negligent. So senseless and long past due for something to be done.
Kevin, a fellow cyclist of my sister in the NorCal AIDS Cycle, asked his friends these questions when he posted a link to my Gun Deaths Since Newtown blog. He asked his friends to read every single name on the list because so often we’re anesthetized by anonymous numbers. He then asked them this:
Look at each name, age, town.
Look at the number of young adults.
Look at the number of teens.
Look at the number of pre-teens.
Look at the number of children who have not even entered 1st grade.
How many are your age?
How many lived in your home state?
I started out making this list of names because I wanted to show the sheer magnitude of gun deaths since Newtown. As I toiled away entering each name, age, city, and state (it took DAYS to initially get all of the information entered), I began to wonder about each person, their families and friends, the tragic situations they faced their final hours or minutes. I couldn’t help but wonder how different things would be for every single one of them if a gun was not involved.
I started my professional career running support groups of parents of murdered children and suicide survivors. I was the chaplain at the scene of gun suicides and present when families identified murdered family members. I’ve also been questioned about parishioners who were gun violence perpetrators and called in for community programs after a gang-related drive-by shooting or other teen gun death. I’ve witnessed the shattering of families because a child died in a gun accident. The only thing that’s changed over the years is there are more gun death incidents.
Most of us have been impacted in some way by gun violence. Each name on The List represents someone who was a son, daughter, partner, husband, wife, father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, cousin, friend, colleague, neighbor, acquaintance to someone else. We may not even know the secret shame another may carry because they or someone they love was involved with a gun death.
It’s time to ask ourselves Kevin’s questions. At the very least, we can acknowledge each life represented and hold those grieving from this horrible loss in our thoughts and prayers.
By the way, I selected December 14, 2012 as a reference point because of the tragedy in Newtown. It was also the day I officiated my brother’s memorial service. His was also a gun death.
Arizona governor, Jan Brewer, signed into law requiring municipalities that buy back guns to resell them. In other words, guns purchased to be removed from circulation are now required to be sold back into circulation! The rationale is that municipalities would not be maximizing an income-generating opportunity by destroying the guns.
There are known cases where guns recovered from government buyback programs have been resold to criminals. Tennessee, which has a gun law similar to Arizona, sold back a gun in 2005 that ended up being used by the Pentagon shooter.
Speaking of Tennessee, an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle is being raffled off by the Tennessee Firearms Association “to advance the effort to resist Barack Obama, the federal government and even a few in Tennessee state government who are determined to destroy your 2nd Amendment rights!!” This is the same type of weapon used by Adam Lanza in the Newtown shooting.
On the flip side of this craziness, the American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents approximately 60,000 pediatricians in the United States, went to Washington April 30, 2013 to advocate for better gun control policies. According to the AAP policy memo:
Gun violence is a public health issue that affects children.
Firearm injuries are one of the top three causes of death among youth, and studies show that strong gun laws help significantly reduce injuries, suicides and homicides.
April 4, 1968 – the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
April 9, 1993 – The end of the Waco siege and the death of 82 members of Branch Davidian.
April 19, 1995 – The bombing of the the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 children and adults.
April 20, 1999 – The Columbine High School shooting and the death of 15 people.
April 16, 2007 – The Virginia Tech shooting death of 32 people.
April 3, 2009 – The shooting death of fourteen people at the Binghamton, NY immigration center.
April 2, 2012 – Seven people died in the shooting spree at Oikos University in Oakland, CA.
April 6, 2012 – Three died in a racially motivated shooting in Tulsa, OK.
April 15, 2013 – Bombs planted near the finish of at the Boston Marathon resulting is three deaths and over one hundred injured.
April 19, 2013 – Two more deaths apprehending suspects in the Boston bombing.
As heinous as these violent events are, they are only a tiny part of gun-related injuries and deaths that occur daily in the United States alone. Over 1,000 people a day are directly affected by gun violence in the United States. This number does not even included families, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances who are also impacted.
87 people a day killed in homicides, by suicide, or by an unintentional shooting
201 people a day shot and injured
732 people a day who are victims of armed robbery or aggravated assault with a gun
Of those 87 people killed each day, 9 are children and 46 are suicides!
What are people of faith to say in the aftermath of ongoing violence? How do we we remain life affirming in the midst of so much injury and death? How do we maintain grace in the midst of vengeance?
One of the scripture readings for today (the fourth Sunday after Easter) is the beloved Psalm 23. Because of it’s popularity at funerals and memorial services, even the non-religious are somewhat familiar with it. Many raised in church and Sunday School have it memorized.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
Sometimes when something is so familiar, we glance over it to make sure we remember its essence without stopping to ponder what new insight we might gain as a result of the changes in our own lives. I like to think of scripture as a living, breathing document that holds new treasures for me each time I revisit its pages. I was not disappointed as I looked at this psalm through the eyes of this past week.
The first phrase that jumped off the screen at me was I fear no evil for you are with me. The writer is realistic and pragmatic. He doesn’t deny the reality of evil nor does he downplay the capacity of evil to wreck havoc in our lives. Security isn’t found in governmental agencies like the FBI, CIA, or Homeland Security or in all the high-tech surveillance measures designed to track, trace, and tighten evil breaches. Security is found in the abiding presence of God who will not abandon us in the midst of whatever evil pervades.
The psalmist also reminds: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. A natural reaction when we’ve been attacked or harmed is vengeance. We want to extract retribution and see that justice is served. True justice has nothing to do with vengeance or retribution and everything to do with grace. I know that’s a lot to wrap out heads around and is a worthy subject for further reflection. By taking a moment to reflect on the abundance and blessings I do have in the midst of whatever awfulness is going on, an opportunity to move from vengeance to grace opens up. You cannot maintain a vengeful spirit in the midst of being thankful.
Make no mistake; evil is present and real. Horrible things can and do happen. But God does not abandon us nor leave us without resources. As people of faith we cannot get caught up in or be held hostage by whatever current of sentiment emerges from our shared experience. We have an opportunity to speak words of grace and comfort when everyone else repeats the vengeful rhetoric that has not served us at all since 9/11. We have an opportunity to reframe the conversation and speak to the real reasons we have so much violence in our lives. Generations of faithful before us have risen to the challenge. It is time for the truly faithful to do so again.
What is wrong with us? Our children cannot go to school without threat of violence or to church without threat of sexual abuse. Elementary school teachers carry guns in their classrooms and pastors teach gun safety to parishioners. Our politicians make ridiculous remarks (I’m still appalled by Texas Representative Steve Stockman’s re-election bumper sticker: “If babies had guns, they wouldn’t be aborted”) and have forgotten – or have a complete lack of regard – for basic playground rules. World class and amateur athletes cannot come together to compete in a marathon without threat of losing life or limb.
It’s time to take a good, hard look in the mirror. It may be simplistic, but it’s also time to revisit the wisdom of the Golden Rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. We can’t control other people or their actions, but we can make sure our words and actions are always life-affirming, thoughtful, and gracious. Oh, and God gave us two ears and one mouth … to be used accordingly.
In Japanese culture the crane is a mystical creature said to live 1,000 years. Traditionally 1,000 cranes are given by a father to his daughter at her marriage. School children make strings of 1,000 cranes for temples in Tokyo and Hiroshima as symbols of peace, popularized by the story of Sadako Sasaki who was two years old when she was exposed to radiation from the bombing of Hiroshima during World War II.
Before President Obama gave his 2013 State of the Union address, faith leaders and others were already rallying to get a national conversation going about gun violence. It seems that every horrific mass shooting or senseless gun death becomes an opportunity to revisit the gun issue. Anytime any life is lost to violence only reminds us that we have yet to deal with the issues surrounding violence in our culture.
Personally, I think the conversation about gun violence is long overdue. What surprises me is we’re not even talking about the gun violence that kills most Americans. While most think murder is the leading cause of gun death, the reality is that the majority of gun deaths are self-inflicted. What we really need to include in the conversation about gun violence is suicide prevention.
Every 15 minutes someone dies by suicide in the Unites States.
For every person who dies, many more think about, plan, or attempt suicide.
More people kill themselves with guns than with every other method combined.
Suicide is complex and determined by a combination of factors. One very close friend of mine made three attempts in a short period. She was well-educated, happily married with two young daughters, and a professor at a prestigious university. An elderly parishioner received news he had cancer and shot himself without ever telling his family of his diagnosis. Sometimes we can piece together mitigating circumstances and risk factors and other times we’re taken completely by surprise.
What Cathy Barber, a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health discovered is that the notion of how a person commits suicide is as important as why and that making it harder for suicidal people to have access to guns is a relatively simple way to save their lives. The assumption is that if someone is suicidal, they will remain suicidal. The overwhelming evidence, including interviews with suicide survivors, is that most suicidal acts come during a surprisingly brief period when someone is experiencing an acute crisis.
I was having a conversation about gun violence with someone and was told that “suicides don’t count.” I understand that most people would rather think that the possibility of themselves or someone they love dying by suicide is more remote than if they were to be shot by an armed robber or mass shooter. I might have also thought that before my brother died from a self-inflicted gunshot.
Either way, innocent people are dying. It seems that these are people who could be helped.