On Mass Shootings and Silver Bullets

In the wake of the horrific mass shooting in Orlando, I’ve been thinking about what I want to say. Until now, I’ve thought it better to simply support others’ speech – particularly my friends in the LGBT community, who have written with anger and grief and passion about this tragedy.

All the same, I feel compelled to talk about how disappointing it’s been to watch the debate play out more or less how it did with the San Bernadino shootings – with one side calling gun control advocacy a smokescreen for failures of national security, and the other side calling the focus on militant Islamism a distraction from failures of firearm policy.

Now, there are certainly folks who blame one cause or another out of (at least/at worst) a blind/nefarious desire to protect a pet political agenda or special interests. But when we reflexively assume this evil of everyone who disagrees with us, we choke progress and resign ourselves to future tragedy.

Working where the law hits the road in poor and working class communities, you see firsthand how no social issue operates in a vacuum – mental health affects housing affects employment affects parenting affects criminal justice affects systemic prejudice affects mental health, etc. etc. etc. – not as a chain, but as a massively complex web of causation and influence, at the heart of which rests a human soul.

As a result, tackling a problem like homelessness often feels like an “all-hands-on-deck” approach – thousands of people fighting on multiple fronts to help people in different ways. And at the end of the day, you’re not trying to control peoples’ choices, but rather to create an environment to both foster growth and mitigate harm. A community.

I submit that the problem of mass shootings in America is a similar knot of causes. Yes, mass shootings are a firearm regulation problem. They are also a mental health problem. They can also be a national security problem. The Orlando shooting was all of these – and it was also a hate problem. Untying this knot, stopping the number of mass killings in this country, if we want to do it right, will also require acts of thoughtful commitment. We will need to think hard about what freedoms we should sacrifice for security. We will need religious leaders to be vigilant against radicalization in their flock. We will need to work to fight homophobia through loud and fierce activism. We will need to fulfill the vision of the Community Mental Health Act through legislative wrangling and political horse-trading and incessant advocacy. We will need to find a way to place reasonable restrictions on the ownership of firearms. Above all, we must do all of this in a way which privileges people over ideology. Because when the welfare of people, not purity of thought, is the overriding motivation, you don’t walk away from the bargaining table – you’re willing to do whatever it takes to fix the problem.

I’m not naive – this isn’t going to be some kind of hand-holding kumbaya exercise. Some people will have the right ideas, and some will have the wrong ideas. We are absolutely allowed to have opinions on which of these is most important and which should be funded first – but none of us on any side should ever stoop to claiming out of hand that a mass shooting is a problem with X but not with Y – in other words, to put issues ahead of people. When we become enamored with our own self-righteousness we destroy the possibility of peace. We should be humble enough to recognize the complexity of these problems, and with the hearts of servants work diligently to fix them, with an unshakable focus on the human souls at their heart. This is what will lead to lasting change.Importantly, this humility requires our recognition of the dignity of those souls’ free will, and with it, the inevitability of evil. We cannot stop every mass shooting. But we can stop some of them – doing so will need everyone’s hands on deck.


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