Uvalde, a town mostly unknown until last week, is now seared into our collective consciousness. It’s branded there by an inhuman horror that has occurred – again. How does this happen in America?
At Robb Elementary School, kids had dressed up for “Footloose and Fancy” theme day. The year-end awards ceremony had just taken place. Everyone was giddy over only two days left until summer. And then, without warning, a deep darkness entered a side door and stole 21 innocent lives.
The events of May 24th are every parent’s and every child’s nightmare. Within minutes the news streamed to screens near us. Within hours we began to see tear-filled interviews with families whose lives had been irreversibly changed.
Friends, counselors, pastors, and news reporters softened by unfathomable suffering tried to offer soothing comments. But no words can console a parent who lost a child, a child who lost a parent, or those who lost a sibling, a grandchild, a classmate, a co-worker, a church family member or a dear friend. The grief is too overwhelming. The best any of us can offer is to sit with them, cry with them, listen intently and pray continually.
All Too Common
In this tragedy, Robb Elementary School now joins a list of US school shootings that grows longer by the week. Far from an isolated event, this was the 27th school shooting in the US in the first 5 months of 2022. They have become so soul-numbingly familiar; they don’t make national news anymore.
Here’s what this tragedy has in common with so many others before it.
- The shooter planned the attack in advance, as is the case in 93% of school shootings according to a study by the Secret Service and Department of Education.
- The shooter’s plans were known by at least one other person (in this case, they were posted on social media), but the plans were not reported, as is the case in 4 out of 5 school shootings.
- The shooter was not a lifelong hunter or gun owner, but rather a socially isolated person who bought weapons and large amounts of ammunition shortly before carrying out the killings, as is the case for most American mass shooters according to a 2015 study at the University of Alabama.
Thumbprint of Evil
Of course, this shooting carries its unique thumbprint of evil. Nineteen 4th grade children and two teachers were mercilessly gunned down with a high-powered assault rifle. Law enforcement arrived at the scene quickly but waited for over an hour before storming the gunman while students and teachers inside pleaded for help through texts and 911 calls. At present, there is no known motive for the massacre.
In the sober aftermath of this staggering tragedy, what can we do? Here are three ways to confront it.
- Care. In a loss of such magnitude, there is a temptation to be overwhelmed by the suffering or fall into compassion fatigue from the sheer volume of tragic events coming at us these days. We can combat that tendency by acknowledging what happened and talking to others about the shock, the sadness, and maybe even the anger that accompanies this news. It requires us to lean into the loss, to feel it. Pain is often the fuel for positive change. The most vulnerable among us need us to care, to show compassion and to engage the individuals and systems that allow such horrors to repeatedly occur. Their very lives may depend on our refusal to wall off our hearts from the pain.
- Pray. Some have asked, “In the face of such evil, what good does it do to pray?” According to Jesus, quite a lot. When he confronted the demonic that came to steal, kill and destroy human life, he said, “This kind can come out only by prayer” (Mark 9:29). Here’s what prayer can do.
- First, it changes us. Prayer brings us into the Presence of God where we are touched by God’s love, truth, peace, holiness, faithfulness and justice. The longer we stay there, the harder it is to hold onto our false assumptions, limited perspective, and self-centered nature.
- Second, prayer changes others. When we pray specifically, persistently, and boldly over time, real changes occur in other people’s lives.
- Third, prayer releases the power of God to bring about changes we could never achieve through human effort. The changing of human hearts is not human work. Our prayers release an inexhaustible Power devoted to defeating sin and evil and replacing them with goodness and beauty.
- Act. When touched by God’s power, our prayers lead us to action. America has seen 221 mass shootings in 2022 so far, two just occurred over the Memorial Day weekend. Mass shootings are defined as four or more people shot or killed, not including the shooter. At this rate, it’s tempting to say, “There’s nothing we can do. It’s just a sin problem that will never go away.” While it is true that we will not eradicate all sin this side of heaven, there actually are game-changing things we can do that will make a difference.
- First, get educated.
- Read The United Methodist Church’s stance on gun violence found in our Book of Resolutions. https://www.umc.org/en/content/book-of-resolutions-our-call-to-end-gun-violence
- Engage in a small group or Sunday School study on the causes and potential solutions to gun violence. Some options from Discipleship Ministries are:
- Trauma Resources for Ministry with Children and Families: https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/after-traumatic-events-listen
- Courageous Conversations for Youth: Gun Violence: https://www.umcyoungpeople.org/lead/courageous-conversations-for-youth-gun-violence
- Courageous Conversations about Gun Violence: https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/courageous-conversation-about-gun-violence
- Although other nations have had horrific shootings, the US is the only western nation that has a frequently recurring nightmare of mass shootings in schools and other public places. Since Americans are not inherently more sinful that people in other nations, what have they done to turn the tide? Can common sense gun laws that have saved countless lives of innocent children and adults in other places be enacted here while still protecting the right to bear arms?
- Second, contact your State and Federal elected officials. Let them know how important this subject is to us all. Innocent people’s lives are at stake.
- First, get educated.
Be a Life Saver
On Saturday night, May 28, in Chattanooga, a 39-year-old woman lost her life in a mass shooting while attending a Memorial Day celebration. Like the 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School, her only mistake was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many in the quiet community of Uvalde have said, “If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere.”
Before the next random shooting event takes the life of someone we love, let’s do something about it. We can craft changes that make our schools and our country a far safer place to live.
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