Compassion, courage needed to end U.S. gun violence

If you had a neighbour who placed the protection of their own needs and privileges above the safety of their children, you might have questions. You might wonder if there was anything you could say or do that might open their heart, their mind, to another point of view.

You might ask yourself if your own experience of selfishness, of self-centredness, could provide insight into the attitude of your neighbour, a way to find a crack in the hard shell.

We are all, to some degree selfish and self-centred. There is part of us that puts ourselves, our wants, our privileged view of the world, above the needs of others. We can put brakes on it, but we all have “me first” somewhere inside. Maybe that can help us understand.

Our American neighbours have built a system of laws and rules that places their right to bear arms above the basic need of children to be safe. That was not their intention, but it is clearly the result. We saw it again this week, and last week, and the week before.

People who should not have guns, have guns. Our neighbours have enshrined a system that makes it incredibly easy for anyone of legal age to buy a gun. They can legally acquire an assault-style weapon and body armour and ammunition. They can take those things to an elementary school and kill children and their teachers.

One of the wisest comments I read this week came from the actor Matthew McConaughey. He’s from Uvalde, Texas, the location of this week’s mass shooting that claimed the lives of 19 students and two teachers.

He said: “The true call to action now is for every American to take a longer and deeper look in the mirror, and ask ourselves, ‘What is it that we truly value? How do we repair the problem? What small sacrifices can we individually take today, to preserve a healthier and safer nation, state, and neighbourhood tomorrow?’”

In asking about “small sacrifices,” I think McConaughey is, in his own way, directing his neighbours to a teaching that is part of most faiths, including Christianity. We are all called to make sacrifices for the good of others. Sacrifices are difficult and costly. They are also necessary, until they are not.

First responders place themselves in harm’s way every time there is a mass shooting. They are prepared to sacrifice their lives for the sake of potential innocent victims. Wouldn’t it make sense for our neighbours to follow those heroic examples and consider what they might give up to prevent future armed attacks on schools, grocery stores, movie theatres, places of worship?

I pray for the families, friends, neighbours and colleagues of the children and adults who died at Robb Elementary School. I pray for the first responders who attended the scene. I pray for those who feel they have the most to sacrifice, that they will find the courage, the honour, the compassion, the faith required to live in ways that aren’t just for themselves, but so that others can attend school, or buy a loaf of bread, or go to worship without fear of being shot. 

Darrow Woods is the pastor at Harrow United Church. He lives in Kingsville.

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