My bedroom is pitch dark, my heart is racing, my breathing is rapid as though I’ve just run a 5K race, and my T-shirt is soaked with sweat. Once again, I am bolt upright in bed, having had another nightmare about gun violence breaking out in the cathedral.
Since Uvalde, I have had three of these nightmares. The rash of gun violence and mass shootings in the United States is a public health crisis. It has been for a long time, for decades. It is evil. The cost for the economy is incalculable. The toll in human life and suffering for the victims, their families, friends, and the first responders is abominable. The impact on individual and collective mental health is … well, words fail me.
I am writing this opinion piece following the announcement that a bipartisan group of U.S. senators had reached an agreement on a nominal form of gun safety legislation. While I am grateful that something has been done, it is not enough. It is not nearly enough.
Since Jan. 1, there have been 250 mass shootings in this country and the overall impact of gun-related violence and injury is unfathomable. I tried to quantify the number and couldn’t. Mass shootings have occurred in schools, grocery stores, retail malls, restaurants, subways, on public streets, in workplaces and in churches. No sector of our society has been spared this grotesque violence and we are all suffering for it. The mental health toll doesn’t just impact those closest to the gun violence. It spreads, like the contagion it is, throughout the community and the nation. The stress caused by this senseless violence is no respecter of age, gender, ethnicity, creed, or political party. This mental health crisis is felt everywhere.
A recent Harris Poll survey found that 75 percent of young people between the ages of 15 and 21 said that mass shootings were a significant source of stress for them. I recently met with a parent who said that her youngest children were afraid to attend school and that they were “acting out” more since the shooting in Uvalde. She attributes the change in their behavior to gun violence. That same Harris Poll said that adults between the ages of 22-72 also claim that gun violence is a significant source of stress in their life.
As the leader of a faith community, I am beyond worried that my community is at risk for gun violence. Hence my nightmares. There would have been a time in my ministry when I might have said, we are a church, the house of God, surely it is not going to happen here. Tell that to the good people of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Birmingham or the countless other churches, synagogues, temples and mosques throughout this country that have experienced shootings during worship and events since the first shooting occurred in 1980, during Sunday services at First Baptist Church in Dangerfield, Texas. In the shooting five people were killed and 10 were wounded.
That this violence and the hatred that supports it is at pandemic proportions in our society is disgusting. That we allow it is reprehensible and irresponsible. Our obsession with gun ownership, as a God-given right, is pathological and dead wrong. There is nothing in Holy Scripture that supports gun ownership. It is a perversion of the edicts of God.
I come from a gun-owning family. While I do not own a gun now, I have no issues with owning and using guns for hunting and sport. I am unequivocally opposed to free flow of gun sales without common-sense restrictions. Nothing in the Second Amendment of our Constitution prevents, in fact it prescribes, “a well-regulated militia… .”
So, what drives our gun obsession? In a word, fear! Fear of the other … fear of loss of power or status, and fear of overreaching government. Unbridled greed also drives the gun industry. Weapons of war, intended to kill quickly and efficiently, made their way into the public sector because there was money to be made. Lots of money. Gun manufacturers and the NRA manipulate the fear of the average person, which drives demand. What these people do is immoral and un-Godly.
What is the solution? It is a complex and multifaceted issue. Common-sense gun laws that regulate ownership and the training required to own a gun would be a good start. So thank you to the bipartisan group of senators who have done something. Other solutions include adequate funding by governmental and non-governmental organizations to study the mental health impact of gun violence on individuals and society. An outright ban of all advertising related to the sale of guns. A ban on private sector ownership of all weapons of war — the AR-15, for example. Voting for representatives who place human life over the next corporate campaign donation. Fund alternative programs to deal with gun violence at the street level. Finally, for those of us who claim faith in God, let’s show forth in our lives what we profess with our lips.
Community meeting to end gun violence
If you are interested in working to end gun violence and promote gun safety, join me and the Fresno Clergy Coalition at St. James Episcopal Cathedral at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 29, where will hear a call to action to engage this issue. It has been said that the “only thing necessary for evil to flourish is for good people to say nothing.” Lift your voice and join us. Let us act to effect change.
Enough is enough!
Rev. Samuel S. Colley-Toothaker is Dean of Fresno’s St. James Episcopal Cathedral and the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin.