There are, as of this writing, 26 people dead and 20 injured from another mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. I find myself surprised that these shootings still leave me surprised, but more than anything they just make me sad.
What I don't want to do in the wake of this shooting is write another mean piece. These shootings shake people to their core, regardless of their political stripes.
There may be a temptation among some to, perhaps unintentionally or perhaps not, bask in the smug glow of being right. I hope those people will respectfully abstain from this conversation. In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, I recall a liberal woman calling out Mike Pence, much to the delight of fellow liberals, telling him he couldn't feel sorrow after Las Vegas because of his political positions. If you are a conservative gun-rights supporter, I hope you'll ignore comments like those. If you are grieving this tragedy, you have a right to your pain.
But I do feel these tragedies force a reckoning on uncomfortable truths for gun-rights supporters, and the time to face these uncomfortable truths is right now.
The first truth is that thoughts and prayers really aren't enough. They weren't enough after Aurora to prevent Sandy Hook. They weren't enough after Sandy Hook to prevent the church shooting in Charleston. They weren't enough after Charleston to prevent the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon where Barack Obama famously said, "Thoughts and prayers are not enough."
Do we even remember the Umpqua Community College shooting? Nine people were killed there just four years ago. They're all starting to blend together, aren't they?
The president, after Umpqua, was right about our thoughts and prayers. The thoughts and prayers we offered failed to prevent Las Vegas, and the thoughts and prayers after Las Vegas failed to prevent the shooting in Sutherland Springs.
I love people who believe in the power of God. I join you in praying to God every day, including from a church pew every Sunday. But we must understand that shootings like this will continue to take place until we offer more than thoughts and prayers.
The second uncomfortable truth is the notion that more guns keep us safe. Perhaps I'm making assumptions, but Sutherland Springs, Texas seems like the type of place where if more guns would keep you safe, that would be the place to be.
Sutherland Springs is a rural, unincorporated community in Wilson County, just outside of San Antonio. If there is a profile of rural, gun owning communities, Wilson County seems to fit the bill. The county population is just over 48,000, and 80% white. In the 2016 election, 72% voted for the Republican nominee, Donald Trump.
When we think of gun-owning middle America, it's places like Sutherland Springs that come to mind. Yet, the shooting victims were sitting targets for a man who was hell-bent on killing a lot of people.
There are reports that it was an armed citizen who first confronted the killer, shooting at him and hitting him, before he fled. Those citizens should be commended, and this news certainly does beg the question, "Isn't it good that the citizen had a gun?"
Yes, of course it is. But even in a place like Sutherland Springs, where armed citizens aren't afraid to stand up to mass murderers, a killer was able to kill about half of a church's congregation.
This is where the line between weapons meant for self-defense and hunting, and those meant for so much more, become painfully evident. No, I do not want to see a ban on rifles, or even handguns for that matter. People hunt, people engage in sport, and some people have legitimate reasons for needing a weapon for self defense.
But it is fairly safe to assume at this point that the killer didn't use a hunting rifle. His Facebook page shows a photo of an assault-style, semi-automatic rifle with a caption, "She's a bad bitch." Yes, we need to talk about mental health and how to keep madmen from owning these weapons, but it's also worth asking why anyone outside of law enforcement or military needs one at all.
After Las Vegas, I wrote that I don't think individuals, be they liberal or conservative, really want to throw in the towel and passively accept that nothing can be done to prevent these incidents of gun violence.
To do so, however, will require real problem solving, and tackling tough questions about what kinds of limits we should put on firearm ownership. Continuing as we always have will only continue to produce the same results.
I know that enhanced gun control won't prevent all acts of violence. Anyone who writes honestly about this latest shooting will tell you that they don't have all of the answers, and you can add me to that list.
But I do believe in honest conversations, and I know two things to be true: more guns can only do so much to protect us even in a place like Sutherland Springs, and thoughts and prayers aren't enough.
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