Less than 24 hours after a gunman began killing people at Umpqua Community College, our country’s political fires were raging at maximum intensity.
President Obama was clamoring for more gun control laws.
Gun rights advocates were blaming “gun-free zones” for making it possible for public places to become killing fields.
An out-of-context comment by Jeb Bush spread like wildfire through social media, as if to prove that heartless conservatives care more about guns than people.
Witnessing all the fury, I can’t help but feel like this unspeakable tragedy in Oregon has just become — if possible — even sadder.
There once was a time in American life when a crime of this magnitude would bring people together. We carried with us a sense of patriotic grace, a river of pathos flowing underneath common ground. Moments like this hushed our lips and led our hearts to reflect. More often than not, that reflection led to empathy: “That might have happened here. That could have been my child. What if I had been there? Oh, God — give us peace.”
Those sentiments dissipated all too quickly this week. Perhaps due to the callousness of our hearts or the fact that mass shootings have become common, we now rush to the computer to vent our frustrations rather than turn to God and to each other to express our grief.
I understand how the feeling of helplessness intensifies the desire to just do something — to promote some person or push some policy. Make a statement. Pass a bill. Do whatever it takes to help us at least feel like we’re making progress in preventing these senseless horrors.
What troubles me is not that these tragedies lead to advocacy for policy change, but that our country’s imagination is held captive to the idea that the only place where such change can take place is in the legislature or courthouse. That’s why the conversation turned immediately to governmental blame and governmental solutions:
- From the right: Government is to blame for preventing good citizens from being able to act quickly and protect people in situations like this!
- From the left: Government won’t pass common sense legislation to keep guns out of the hands of criminals!
All sides of the gun control debate seem to think government is partly to blame and government is our only hope.
But this raises an interesting question: Why do we turn to government first? Are there no other places to turn for comfort, for consolation, for change?