#PictureAdvent is one of those clever social media campaigns. I think some Methodists in Florida started it. Each day in Advent has a theme and a scripture passage. You take a picture that reflects the theme and post it to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or other social media.
Yesterday’s theme was Guide. I took this picture.
Originally I thought the picture would be ironic. The sign has so many arrows, it’s confusing. Not much of a Guide, right?
By the end of the day, that kind of confusion seemed palpable. Three people with guns had opened fire at hospital staff party in San Bernardino, CA. Fourteen people dead. In Houston, two people were killed in a shooting that started in a women’s health clinic and spilled onto the streets. By nightfall, news reports were telling us that there have been more mass shootings (four or more people killed) than there have been days in the year so far.
Gun violence is a terrible plague stalking our nation. How do we address it?
There is no one answer, no one-way street to take us to peaceful living. Instead, our way forward is more like that messy traffic sign with multiple arrows.
Curbing gun violence will take many people, working in many areas.
At the public policy level, many changes are needed. Universal background checks for all gun purchasers. Safe gun storage requirements. Limits on large gun purchases. Ending straw purchasers. Banning assault weapons. Exploring “smart gun” technology.
We also need to change our thinking about gun laws. Mostly, the laws are different from state to state and town to town. That doesn’t work when a criminal can purchase guns easily in one state and readily carry them next door to another state. We need uniform common sense laws across the country.
We need to recognize the complexity of gun use and gun deaths. Mass shootings grab our attention. But suicide is the leading cause of gun death. Domestic violence and “street” violence are different causes. One size does not fit all. It’s the same for gun owners: a farmer with a shotgun in Texas, a hunter with a rifle in Vermont, a drug dealer with a pistol in Chicago, a young man with a battlefield-ready assault weapon who barges into a school—are all different.
We also need better mental health services. When mass shootings occur, some people are quick to decry the shooter as unstable. But the fact is that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of gun crimes than perpetrators. People with mental illness often use guns to commit suicide. We need better services that care for the most vulnerable and most unstable in our communities.
We need strong groups for belonging. That’s where religious communities play a big role. Maybe, just maybe, the stereotypical deranged loner who shoots up a Planned Parenthood clinic could have benefited from a community that cared for him. And certainly victims of crimes and their anxiety-filled neighbors need communities of comfort.
We need to pray. Some “prayer-shaming” took place yesterday when politicians who have opposed stronger gun laws tweeted out assurances of prayer after the San Bernardino killings. And the critics were right – those platitudes are trite. Last week some of my Facebook friends argued over how to tackle gun control issues. Some offered the prayer-only approach, others offered the lobby-til-your-voice-goes-away approach. I don’t think we have to choose. I think we work for the policy changes described above, and we pray.
Prayer doesn’t fix things. Prayer helps us see what needs to be fixed.
The traffic sign pictured above offers an analogy. Protecting lives, caring for each other, and making our streets safer will require going in many directions. Sometimes we may feel lost and confused. But working together – each of us offering our best gifts and ideas – we can save lives and love one another.
Timothy Tutt is a wanderer, wonderer, husband, father, laugher, liberal, Texan-by-birth, Washingtonian-by-choice (yep, DC). He is the senior minister at Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ in Bethesda. Take a look at his blog ZenTexas.blogspot.com