(This post has not been edited for errors. Also, as your friend, I ask that you read this post with an open heart and not be easily offended. My only attempt here is to begin framing a dialogue that allows our country to move forward. Love you all. -Shaun)
I have spent most of my life as a bridge builder and mediator between warring factions and people groups (rich & poor, black & white, gay & straight, Christian & non-Christian, rural & urban, liberal & conservative, etc.) that don’t get along. As you may know, when I was 15, I was brutally assaulted and missed nearly 2 years of high school recovering from my injuries while enduring 3 painful spinal surgeries. Amazingly, I came out of that hell, not with bitterness, but with an open heart that wanted to help people through their pain. 18 years later that is my passion to this very day.
Today, I hope to use my lifelong skills as a bridge builder and my heart for people in pain to begin a conversation on how we move forward after the amazingly ugly and painful slaughter of 20 kids and 6 staff members from the Sandy Hook School in Newtown, CT.
Overwhelming problems, like this shooting in Newtown, cut and hurt so deeply, that they can freeze us into a state of inaction and cause us to be burdened by a sense of helplessness. I have seen this very sentiment expressed, quite literally, by thousands of people on Twitter since the shooting on Friday. People are bewildered. They know they want change, but they aren’t sure what these changes are or who they will come from.
In the wake of the shooting we’ve also learned that the United States has a larger, and quite outrageous, macro problem with guns and violence. The problem is actually gargantuan, and those of us that live here, have a hard time comprehending that it’s nearly as big as it is.
Last year, the United States had TWENTY TIMES the deaths by gun homicide of the average industrialized nation. TWENTY DAMN TIMES. Over 10,000 people were shot to death in the United States last year while our closest allies, like the United Kingdom had 20 and Japan had less than 5. This gap is so gaping – we had 500 times the # of gun homicides as the UK and over 500 times as Japan – that it is almost too hard for our minds to comprehend. I actually cannot even imagine so few people being shot to death because it is just that common for us.
The problem is overwhelming, but we must not despair. Let me tell you what I don’t think the solution is – then I will get to some possible solutions that we should all be able to agree on.
—RELIGIOSITY IS NOT THE ANSWER TO GUN VIOLENCE
Listen, I love Jesus. Until last year I had served as a pastor for most of the previous 10 years. I want to preface what I am about to say with those thoughts.
America does not have a problem with gun violence because prayer was taken out of schools. That’s crap. Back when folk prayed in schools, African Americans were being lynched (kidnapped, publicly hung, mutilated, discarded) in at least 24 different states.
Furthermore, in heavily populated countries that are widely viewed to not only have close to zero gun violence, but very few homicides of any kind, like Japan or France, very few people are Christian at all. If having more Christians that prayed made a country safe – the United States would be the safest country in the world.
The prevalence of religion in a country does not make it safer. Period. While it may be true that if the shooters in Aurora or Newtown were devout Christians (or for that matter devout anything) that they would not have done these things, the truth is that in countries that have little religion these things rarely happen.
I am all for the advancement of true faith, but it is not the solution to our epidemic of gun violence.
Partisan gridlock, on the state level, but particularly within the United States Congress and between them and the President of the United States, is downright embarrassing. Congress has a national approval rating of 9%. Very few Americans trust that they can get much of anything substantive done. The constant fighting and lack of progress is doubly discouraging because, when we are in a national time of need, almost nobody trusts that Washington, DC can actually help.
This is leading to an abiding national cynicism and even hopelessness regarding politics (and politicians), but here’s the thing – we need people in power to stand up and make a difference and if we, the people, don’t demand, it will never happen. The answer to partisan gridlock is not cynicism, but organized agitation from the citizenry.
I believe that the deaths of the 20 babies and 6 staff members of the Sandy Hook School has caused a tipping point, giving the people of our nation the will to demand change in ways that we’ve previously never demanded.
Overwhelming problems (slavery, segregation, women’s suffrage) require brave solutions and brave people to advance those brave solutions. I want to suggest 7 core thoughts on how we, as a nation, as divided and hurt and violent as we are, can plow forward to make a real difference with gun violence that will save the lives of men, women, and children all across our country and put our rates of homicide on par with other nations.
- As a nation, we have to admit that the outrageous number of deaths due to gun violence in our country is the most serious problem we face. It is an epidemic. If we cannot admit this, across party lines, across ethnic & economic lines, we cannot move forward. Period. More people were killed last year in our country due to gun violence than were killed on 9/11 and in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. This is insane.
- After we accept the gravity and scope of this problem, we have to accept that solutions are possible and that pursuing them, even if uncomfortable and costly for all of us, if they will save lives, must be done. We must done be overcome with analysis paralysis where we just debate and analyze in an endless cycle. Solutions are possible. Australia, after an awful mass shooting that killed dozens, made major changes that have drastically reduced gun crimes and mass shootings there. Solutions may be hard as hell, but they are possible.
- The most influential, bi-partisan, diverse commission ever formed on the eradication of gun violence in the United States should be formed right away. It should be multi-generational, multi-industry and include such a powerful group of influencers that the people of our nation respect this group from start until finish. It cannot be the same old people. It should have hard and fast deadlines and be the most transparent commission of its kind in modern American history. I would personally like to see Jack Dorsey – Co-Founder of Twitter and Square on this commission.
- Every side on this issue has to be willing to give up something they love. The vocal extremists on this issue will not be pleased. Everything outside of the elimination of the right to bear arms must be on the table. We must study how nations with comparable demographics, comparable mental health issues, and comparable access to violent media/games/etc. are able to have such astoundingly low death rates due to gun violence and be willing to do things done in those nations that we , heretofore have not been willing to consider. In the end, I guess it will be better for everyone to be pissed because I just don’t see a way for everybody to be happy with any sweeping solutions.
After these 4 thoughts, I want to suggest 3 concrete solutions that should happen right away. I don’t give a crap about partisanship here and I could care less of who wins any political battles attached to this conversation.
- We should reinstate the national ban on assault weapons (and their ammunition) and have an aggressive national buyback plan of epic proportions to eliminate a HUGE volume of these weapons from public circulation. It is our understanding that it was the assault weapon that killed all of the babies @ Sandy Hook and it is generally assault weapons that are used in most mass shootings. While limited, it is my understanding that the banning of assault weapons and their eventual buyback happened very successfully in Australia. I do not think it is a cure-all. I am well aware that many of these guns will still exist, but banning them and then making every attempt at eliminating access to them is a strong step in the right direction.
- We must immediately consider drastic measures to protect our schools and public places. Public confidence has been lost. Children are afraid and parents are nervous. Just as every airplane in the country now has reinforced doors, armed pilots, and we must go through advance x-ray style screenings, and we all have to take our shoes off – comparable measures must now be taken in other places in society where people are at risk, but particularly on school campuses. I am venturing off into new territory here, but I would approve an armed police officer at every school in our country from open until close. How much would this have helped at Sandy Hook? I suspect a lot. My understanding is that the Sandy Hook shooter shot his way through a door – maybe this means we have bullet proof doors or gated driveways with key fobs to schools or something else, but I am open to drastic measures to protect our most vulnerable and most valuable citizens.
- We should drastically increase our local, state, federal, and private budgets to deal with the holistic/comprehensive implications this issue ranging from the enforcement of new and old laws to mental health issues, and to retrofitting our buildings to be more secure. It is clear at this point that it is an issue of NATIONAL SECURITY. 10,000-12,000 people a year being shot to death in our country is not only terrorism, but it is the absolute epitome of a Homeland Security issue. It is WAY MORE LIKELY that you will be shot by an American citizen with a handgun than you will ever be blown up by a terrorist, but the disparity between how we treat the seriousness of those two opposing viewpoints is egregious at best. When we have a congresswoman shot in the face, people slaughtered watching Batman, people shot at the mall or worshipping in a temple, kids shot on the streets, or our babies killed in Kindergarten & 1st grade, it’s time that our budget matches the pain this is causing.
My 7 ideas for how we move forward is far from a manifesto, but is, instead, a jumping off point.
I spoke very little of the role of mental health or violence in pop culture plays in the violence of our nation – in great part because my understanding is that every other industrialized nation has these exact same challenges, but they just don’t have our rate of murder. The problem, primarily in my opinion, lies elsewhere – although mental health and violence in pop culture must be considered as a part of any comprehensive movement moving forward.
I’d love to be included in any national dialogues on this and will give you my personal email address: firstname.lastname@example.org and phone number (678)641-5016 if you ever want to connect.
Let’s move forward boldly.