The heart of America is aching in the aftermath of yet another tragic school shooting, this time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Fourteen young people, a geography teacher, an athletic director and a football coach were murdered. As this community buries its children, thousands and thousands of people across the United States and around the world gather in candlelight vigils to remember them and to pray for their families whose lives are changed forever. My own heart – and I know the heart of this Church – goes out to all of them in their grief.
This is the seventeenth time in 2018 that a gun has been discharged on a US school property, and the eighth incident that has resulted in injury and death. This is all barely within the first two months of this new year. Since 2013, there have been nearly 300 school shootings in America — an average of about one a week.
What is remarkably notable in the aftermath of this recent shooting in Florida is the tremendous resilience of the young people in standing up and speaking out with grave concern for the gun violence that is tearing apart families and communities. While some people note that many of the shooters have serious mental health issues or have links with terrorist groups, and that needs to be acknowledged, many others are asking deeper questions about “the gun culture” across the United States. Some question an all-or-nothing approach to the Second Amendment in an age of automatic weapons. Some question why many Americans so vehemently defend that right. Some question the measures around gun control and the extent to which they can be enforced. Some question access to semi-automatic weapons that can fire dozens of rounds within seconds.
One young man reminded a rally in Florida, that addressing these issues was not about being Republican or Democrat, but about being human. These students are speaking out with a courage and conviction that cannot go unnoticed. Their cry for reform will not pass soon as some might expect and others might hope. Many Americans are joining them and crowding the roads to places where legislation is considered, including those to Capitol Hill in Washington.
In The Episcopal Church, a coalition of Bishops United Against Gun Violence have called their members into liturgies of lamentation for the victims of the Parkland shooting; into a time of engagement with their elected representatives to support legislation banning assault weapons such as the AR-15 which is frequently used in such shootings, and into a time of discernment to make clear to their elected representation “that they must vote in the interest of all Americans, including law-abiding gun owners, and in passing life-saving common-sense gun policies”.
I ask you to uphold these bishops in advancing their cause and in standing in solidarity with the young people who are speaking out in your prayers. For in truth, these young people are already working very hard as “the restorer of the streets” (Isaiah 58:12) in which all can live safely and peaceably.
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