I got out of bed this morning, like I always do, at 6:45am, exactly 2 hours and 16 minutes past when I always say I will wake up. The phone, as always, sits between the shower and I. The blue light, as it does sometimes, was blinking, beckoning my attention before allowing me to move on. The alert was from Bloomberg. “At least 50 dead in…“ Reading more would require a click.
Fifty, I must have figured, was worth reading about. I wondered what part of the world it must have come from and the circumstances surrounding it.
It was from Las Vegas. They were killed by a sniper from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel as they watched an outdoor country music concert. The death toll had climbed to 58 by the time I started writing this. Over 500 were injured. The death toll will probably rise.
The reports say this was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Another report noted it’s the second time in 2 years we’ve had the deadliest mass shooting in history.
The shooter has been identified. A 64-year-old white man from Nevada. The motive will become more clear as time goes on. Or, perhaps not. Either way, there will be some sort of broader narrative that emerges, for good or for ill. There always is. Whatever it is and however it’s used won’t ultimately matter much to those who have to bury a loved one.
The thoughts and prayers poured in, of course, quickly this morning. How can we not offer them? I made sure to dutifully post mine to Facebook once I arrived at the office and collected my thoughts. “Thoughts and prayers...” Yes, indeed, thoughts and prayers. Of course. Why wouldn’t we?
But ultimately, those thoughts and prayers are pretty meaningless, aren’t they? Not one thing is different, now, as a result of them. 58+ people are still dead. 58+ families now get to bury a loved one. And people like the killer can still access the same type of weapons and ammunition that will allow them to carry out the same type of atrocity somewhere in the future.
President Barack Obama, two years to the day prior to the Las Vegas shooting, addressed the thoughts and prayers issue head on in the wake of the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon that killed 10.
“Our thoughts and prayers are not enough,” the president said at the time. “It does not capture the heartache and grief we should feel, and it does nothing to prevent this carnage being repeated somewhere else in America.”
At some point, we in America are going to have to confront our gun culture and our desire to have an almost unfettered access to weapons.
I couldn’t help but think about our gun culture the other day upon reading a news article about a 4-year-old girl who shot and killed herself reaching for candy inside of her grandmother’s purse. Why is she dead? Certainly, it was irresponsible for the grandmother to have her gun where a child could get it, but how can we not also blame gun culture? I’m not one who has a blanket opposition to guns (yes, I’ve owned them), but for some, these things are not looked upon as tools of last resort for defense, but as a part of their identity. I can’t speak to anyone specifically, but the vast majority of people do not need a handgun, or a high-powered sniper rifle. My question, at the end of the day, is why did grandma think she needed it at all?
Somehow, a very large segment of the population has gotten it into their heads that any limits on the types or quantities of guns or ammunition, or how quickly they can be purchased, is an affront to their way of life. So more mass shootings happen, more thoughts and prayers get offered, and nothing more gets done.
But I don’t believe, in our heart of hearts, that individuals, be them liberal or conservative, really want to throw in the towel and give up. I don’t believe that more of these shootings are just something we have to sit back and passively accept.
But unless something changes with how people can access firearms in this country, you can bet more of these shootings will happen.
Out of all the noise today, it was perhaps former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander’s simple tweet that most grabbed my attention. He quoted James 2:17.
“So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
I don’t know if I’ve ever believed that statement more than I believe it today. Thoughts and prayers aren’t enough. It’s time for America to decide where we go from here.
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