With each successive mass shooting since Sandy Hook, the question "How long?" reverberates louder and louder inside my head like a drumbeat. How long will we as members of the human race allow our babies, children, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and yes even grandparents to be needlessly massacred as the result of gun violence? How long will we allow the blood of the innocent to flow freely saturating the ground where they fell after being gunned down? How long will the response to such unspeakable tragedy be limited to candlelight vigils where the air is filled with bagpipes playing the familiar refrain from Amazing Grace followed by vitriolic exchanges across social media about guns, the further demonization of individuals with mental illnesses, and meaningless speeches by politicians only seeking to produce 15-second sound bites rather than actual solutions? I am just asking how long? In a recent New York Times article, columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote that in the United States in 2013, 82 preschoolers were killed by guns as compared to 27 police officers who were shot to death in the line of duty during the same time period. According to a report from the PBS data team, there is more than one mass shooting each day in the United States. The Washington Post just reported that to date this year at least 43 toddlers age 3 and younger have shot or killed themselves or someone else. In the meantime the proverbial Nero fiddles while the country that we claim to love burns to the ground.
I must quickly state that I do not know if more laws and fewer guns is the answer to ending gun violence. My belief is not based upon the so called constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms that has been such an effective rallying cry for gun rights advocates. Rather, I believe that our nation has become so polarized and fractured that any gun reform measure would be the equivalent of a small bandage over the gaping and deeply infected wound of fear and hatred of difference. This same intense fear and hatred of difference drives people into the abyss of a violence that is increasingly "resolved" by using a gun.
Reacting to difference with fear and hatred is destroying our ability to extend empathy, love, and grace to each other. We do not seem to realize that we cannot cut our brothers and sisters without drawing our own blood. Until we learn to love each other as we love ourselves, gun violence will continue its destructive march across our nation. Why? Because we cannot hate, fear, or kill who we love.
Loving, extending forbearance, accepting, and forgiving each other may seem like weakness. To the contrary, hate and fear are the easy path. Love, forbearance, and forgiveness are hard choices; choices that require courage and strength. Perfect love and empathy reveal this critical truth: that regardless of our differences we are truly each other's keeper.
So the answer to the question "How long?" is until the festering wound of fear and hatred is completely healed. That healing occurs whenever we choose to respond to differences with love, forbearance, and forgiveness instead of fear and hatred. Fear and hate are contagious. The more the rancid brew of fear and hatred is stirred the more its toxicity will multiply.
Mass shootings are destroying the very fabric of our nation. Gun violence is a complex, multi-layered issue that does not lend itself to an easy solution. However, no solution will effectively and fully address gun violence until we learn to freely extend love, forbearance, and forgiveness to each other. Love, fear, and hate are choices. Today, I challenge you to choose love.
As always be empowered, encouraged, and enlightened!