Friday, January 18, 2013

But Can’t We Just Avoid the Conversation About Gun Violence?

We’re told not to expect much change anyway. And why do we need another divisive issue in the church. Nothing will change! Unless. . . .

Don’t expect. . . .

But we must dare to expect this time. We the people need to be active because we really do have the opportunity to change our culture of gun violence.  We continue to hear that now is the time for a “Conversation” about gun violence.  This blog is called “Conversations on the Church’s Vocation in the Public World.” “Conversation” is actually a pretty safe word.  Can’t we at least have that?  But, “It won’t make any difference,” we hear and believe.   President Obama in his press conference January 16, invited all kinds of community people, including pastors, to take a lead. Now is the time.

King marched and we the people marched during the Civil Rights Movement, a few of us at first.  Most thought it would be impossible to change a culture of segregation which was a “way of life.”  But the movement grew.  Issues remain: racism, classism, voter suppression laws.  But we as a nation changed.

The “Abolitionists” is on PBS these weeks.  In the 1820’s slaves had become the largest economic asset in the country. Blacks, in great danger, raised their voices but white America, with an institution so deeply embedded culturally, politically and economically, could not imagine turning monetary assets into compatriots.  Slavery was a religious issue. People spoke and wrote and led and fought and so we have the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.

Many did not expect Barack Obama to be giving a Second Inaugural speech this January 21, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Many did not expect him to be elected four years ago. How could one have expect an African American to be president?  But he is, despite efforts to nullify him and and his executive orders. Still people say, “Don’t expect too much from what he said in his press conference.” “He won’t get things through Congress.”

Unless. . . .  Unless we the people become actors in our own drama of change beyond expectations.

Walking through centuries old cemeteries one sees grave stones of small children who died of disease. Families then could not expect all of their children to grow to adulthood.  The same is still true in many nations around the world. But through research and work, we as a nation now do expect our children to grow up; so we experience tragedy when lives are cut short by mass murder.  But I have heard this week, “Of course we can’t stop all the shootings.” Have we come to expect nothing can change a culture of gun violence? On the streets of some cities young people themselves think they may die of gunshot wounds, perhaps in a drive-by shooting, before they reach adulthood.

Not many decades ago in the United States it was expected that when children returned to school in the fall, some classmates would be missing because they had died of polio during the summer. We stopped polio. That change is true almost all over the world except for a few countries. The World Health Organization recently announced a nationwide Pakistani polio vaccination campaign has been temporarily suspended because at least eight Pakistani health workers were shot to death as they administered the vaccination to children. We worked, and are working, to change the expectation that children die from the epidemic of polio. What about the epidemic of gun violence?

At the time of President Obama’s press conference January 16, 900 Americans had died “at the end of a gun” since the deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary school. How many more have died in the days since? Don’t expect much change unless in each community, in each extended family, in each faith community at the local, state and national level, we the people are determined to work together to change a killing culture.  Death and life are issues that Christ calls us to care about. Christ’s death and resurrection free us to be agents of life in a death denying, death-defying culture.  

We can expect gun laws to have little effect unless we pay attention to the ongoing legislative process. About ten years ago then Kansas Representative Todd Tiahrt was able to place amendments (the wording of which was approved by the NRA) in a congressional spending bill that significantly weakened law enforcement efforts to prevent gun crimes and prosecute gun offenders. While some components of the Tiahrt Amendments were improved in 2007 and 2009, several damaging provisions continue to tie the hands of law enforcement. Background check records are still destroyed within 24 hours. ATF still does not have the power to require dealer inventory checks to detect lost and stolen guns. Cities and states are still restricted from using trace data to fully investigate corrupt gun dealers and traffickers.  What can we expect? We can insist that Congress confirm the appointment of a director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The NRA will literally call the shots unless. . . .

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day my husband and I will attend a breakfast here in Dubuque at the Grand River Center overlooking the Mississippi River.  We have done this for years. It began as a small group, then moved to local Loras College dining hall. Now families, high school and college students, business people and more gather. People are participating in not just a day but a weekend of service all over the city. We will not take guns to the River Center. Likewise a small group of people has begun to organize here, energized in part by nuns, to help this community address issues and causes of violence, all kinds of violence. The group will gather for the second time February 3.  What should we, together, dare to expect? To work, to walk, to “like, share and tweet,” to organize, to persuade congressional representatives and senators who say they will simply vote against anything. Nothing will change.  Unless. . . .

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