Birds flying from trees
Franciscan Spirit Blog

2021: The Year of Living Dangerously

Jul 16, 2021
2021: The Year of Living Dangerously
With gun violence on the rise, we as a nation find ourselves at a crossroads.

Howard Unruh woke up on the morning of September 6, 1949, with a plan. After breakfast, the 28-year-old went for a walk in his Camden, New Jersey, neighborhood with a Lugar and an eight-round magazine. In less than 15 minutes, he shot 16 people indiscriminately; 13 would die from their injuries. Mass shootings predate this rampage, but none were as deadly. Unruh, it seems, started a trend.

As this is being written, on the 196th day of the year, there have been 356 mass shootings in this country. Let that sink in: Gun violence is outpacing the days of the year. Even COVID-19’s restrictions couldn’t slow the rise in gun sales or gun violence—and this year is trending worse. Experts predict 2021 will be the deadliest on record. 

FedEx buildings, retail chains, restaurants, even wakes have become killing fields. “America the beautiful” has developed an ugly problem. 

 

Hard Truths

When COVID-19 vaccines rolled out ahead of schedule, Americans should have celebrated. Instead, we got aggressive. Reports show that gun violence spiked in the spring and has been rising ever since. In the first five months of the year, in fact, over 8,000 people died from gun violence. Given how these attacks always peak in the summertime, firing weapons might replace baseball as our national pastime. 

But how do we define the problem? The Gun Violence Archive, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, DC, says that mass shootings are an American phenomenon and defines it as a gun-related incident where there are “four victims shot, either injured or killed, not including any shooter.” Other forms of gun violence, such as suicide, person-to-person, or domestic violence are categorized differently.

In the wake of these tragedies, voices always rise to a howl. Second Amendment apologists blame mental illness for the epidemic, but according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), it’s a weak argument. “Most people with mental health conditions will never become violent, and mental illness does not cause most gun violence,” NAMI reports. “Mental illness contributes to only about 4 percent of all violence, and the contribution to gun violence is even lower.”

While the Constitution is clear that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” it was written long before assault weapons and bump stocks, nor does it advise Americans on gun trafficking, background checks, or legislation. Last June, in fact, the state of Texas allowed for handgun ownership without a license, despite the objections of law enforcement organizations and gun control advocates. Iowa, Montana, and Tennessee have passed similar gun laws.

And for what? Firearms, statistically, do not make us safer. According to a review in the Annals of Internal Medicine, even a properly stored firearm in the home doubles the risk of homicide and triples the risk of suicide.

While gun rights should be protected for responsible owners (the vast majority of whom will never commit acts of mass violence), the right to stay alive is a higher priority. Put simply: Your right to carry a gun does not outweigh my right to not be killed by one. 

 

Love Held Back

The Church is clear on this issue. In their 2020 document, “A Mercy and Peace-building Approach to Gun Violence,” the US bishops said that the Church “recognizes that recourse to self-defense is legitimate for one’s own safety. In today’s world, however, weapons that are increasingly capable of inflicting great suffering in a short period of time are simply too accessible.”

Accessibility is only one aspect of the crisis. There are others, including poverty, racial inequities, drugs, the mass media—the list is long. But ambivalence to human life should be included.

Indifference eats away at our culture, but it’s hardly a 21st-century invention. Unruh, the New Jersey shooter, was analyzed by doctors who looked for a motive and a measure of humanity. They would find neither. In one session, Unruh told a psychologist his only regret was a lack of ammunition. He is reported to have looked at his doctor vacantly and said, “I’d have killed a thousand.”

Apathy is alive and well in this century—and it’s armed. But love is stronger, even when it’s neglected.

Poet and historian Aberjhani wrote that the “world’s anguish is no different from the love we insist on holding back.” These words ring true: When one person decides to end the lives of others, love is held back. When the body of Christ is shot, it’s a shared wound. We all feel it. And the bleeding needs to stop.   


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Comments

Jean Idiart
Fri, 07/16/2021 - 08:46 AM
Jean Idiart
Excellent article.However, when quoting the Second Amendment never forget to include the first clause; A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. “Well Regulated” is certainly not what we have( not to mention the definition of a “Militia”) the constitutional basis of true gun reform and an end to this carnage is contained in that phrase.
Sara
Fri, 07/16/2021 - 09:08 AM
Sara
Thank you for putting into words what my heart has felt regarding this issue.
Christine Ross
Fri, 07/16/2021 - 09:19 AM
Christine Ross
I appreciate your column but I don’t think it goes far enough. This country was founded by God-loving and God-fearing people. We have come so far from that. Many families are headed by single moms trying to keep it together. Many kids are raised playing horrible games where the villains or heroes get right back up after “being killed”. No reality! Hollywood has made a fortune on violent movies. The music of a lot of young people is filled with disparaging words! Abortions are “ok” by many up until birth and even beyond. We have lost our conservative and Christian way. With no respect for human life some people act out in violent ways. It is not the guns in my opinion. Take a look at Chicago and many other big cities in this country. Their leadership virtually does nothing to stop the killing. Many cities are now taking money and resources from the police which only emboldens more crime. We are, unfortunately, going down a very slippery slope and blaming guns is not the answer!
Elwan
Mon, 07/19/2021 - 11:20 AM
Elwan
'God loving. God fearing people'. Really ? here are the most quoted words of the American Constitution. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Yet the nation thrived on slavery 70 years after Independence day the country fought a war in which hundreds of thousands died. Some to abolish slavery others to preserve slavery. Yet Americans pride themselves that they are "one nation under God". Millions of them are pro life which is very good. yet the very same people swear by the Second Amendment which sanctions murder.
Sonya
Fri, 07/16/2021 - 05:29 PM
Sonya
this is a thought provoking piece. Thank you for shedding light on this issue. Love is stronger.
Karen T.
Sat, 07/17/2021 - 02:06 AM
Karen T.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Sharing this.
Susan D
Sun, 07/18/2021 - 11:59 AM
Susan D
I agree with every point made in these comments. To blame gun violence on the gun is so narrow minded and sad. Instead of looking at a result, let's look at the cause. One point and the biggest point, in my opinion, is the dissolution of the nuclear family. The Ten Commandments, respect for God and country, respect for yourself and others; the other person's body, space, possessions, rights, opinions or point of view, it's not being taught anymore and hasn't been taught for a very long time. What ever happened to "sticks and stones will break my bones ... but words will never hurt me"? And what happened to the consequences and/or punishment for your uncivilized actions? "No guns" is as far away from the cause of our society's problems, as we are from when "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" was taught and believed.
Jen
Wed, 07/21/2021 - 10:09 PM
Jen
Thank you for this article. God’s commandment says that we should love one another. We strayed so far. Have mercy on us!
Tricia
Thu, 07/22/2021 - 10:23 PM
Tricia
My heart breaks for all the terrible shootings. I pray that we relearn how to love each other and strive for peace.

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