A week ago today the Gun Violence Archive (GVA) revealed the grim pace our country is experiencing in regard to mass shootings, which it described as incidents in which at least four people are shot, excluding the shooter.
The shootings have outnumbered the days of 2019 thus far. Including the recent tragedies at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and the Oregon district in Dayton, 255 mass shootings have decimated our national landscape. August 5 marked the 217th day of the year.
Many people are still angry and frustrated that in 2013, roughly four months after the Sandy Hook shooting, the Senate defeated proposed legislation from President Barack Obama’s gun violence task force that would have expanded background checks and placed restrictions on specific military-style assault rifles. As we are still emotionally grappling with the deaths from the El Paso and Dayton shootings, President Donald Trump is considering executive action to strengthen background checks, and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine is proposing a “red flag” law that would give courts the authority to temporarily confiscate guns from people who pose a threat to themselves or others.
While I believe we definitely need stricter gun control laws, I also strongly believe that the national conversation must begin to focus more on the fraying morality in our culture that is evident in mass shootings. It is extremely sad, frightful, and troubling to see racist manifestos continuing to emerge online from young white men like alleged El Paso shooter Patrick Crusius. Crusius wrote that he feared a “Hispanic invasion,” which is very similar to the enmity Dylann Roof spewed against African Americans before killing nine Emanuel AME Church members in 2015. Roof blatantly wrote that “Niggers are stupid and violent.” So far, media reports have not found any evidence of a racial motive by Connor Betts in the Dayton shooting. Betts was killed by police officers, but from what has been shared about him from former classmates, it appears he may have suffered from depression.
What really pains me in thinking about the El Paso and Dayton tragedies, as well as mass shootings within recent years, is the spirit of darkness and loathing that overtook these young men to slaughter people with such disdain. I am reminded of the Scripture in Matthew 6:22 where Jesus said, “The light of the body is the eye,” with the “eye” implying your vision or the “lamp” of your life. In the next verse Jesus explains that if your eye is evil then your entire body is full of darkness. We must begin to address this darkness that is manifesting itself through gun violence in a vile attempt to divide us by race and ethnicity.
Critics of President Trump point to the dissension his belligerent tweets and comments regarding Mexicans and immigrants from African countries has caused, and while Trump should bear responsibility for what he has said, seeds of racial abhorrence were sown in this country long before he took office. Only love and compassion can uproot this ingrained hatred. As El Paso and Dayton remain heavy on our consciences, I implore you to consider the following questions:
• If you are African American, do you feel intense remorse that Betts destroyed his life and pray that Crusius and Roof, despite being ruthless murderers, find spiritual redemption?
• If you are white, are you sincerely concerned about urban gun violence in cities like Chicago and Baltimore where young blacks fall victim to homicides?
If we do not begin to care more for one another as fellow citizens and work even harder to instill these values in our children, then tougher gun laws, if passed, will only have minimal effects.
Gun legislation does not have the power to transform the mind and heart. We need a great transformation of love in America, and I ask the same question Obama did after the Sandy Hook shooting: Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them (our children) know they are loved and teaching them to love in return?
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at The Ohio State University-Lima. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. @JjSmojc