Schools, Sanctuaries and Starbucks

[Barcelona] Take a breakWhat 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?

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