The issue of gun ownership has entered the national conversation again after mass shootings in Charleston, S.C., and Lafayette, La. While the murders in Charleston were clearly racial, mental health issues were also raised as a factor.
Attention has focused on keeping people with a history of mental illness from owning guns. This ignores the proliferation of gun ownership in the general population.
The stigma of violence among people labeled mentally ill is perpetuated by entertainment and the mass media. We are inundated with crime-related TV shows that portray violent criminals as mentally ill. TV news gives a similar impression.
Yet, the average mass murderer is a white male from a lower- to middle-class home. He tends to have a high IQ. Usually he has few social connections. His acts are committed because of political or social beliefs, not because he is mentally ill.
The U.S. has more guns than other nations. People use the Constitution’s Second Amendment as an excuse to own guns because they want them, not out of necessity. Statistically, where there are more guns, there tends to be more violence and violent deaths.
Gun ownership is a right. But, according to the Declaration of Independence, which predates the Constitution, we also have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
I learned in junior high civics that one’s freedom ends where another person’s begins. When we are threatened by gun violence, our lives are at risk. Our right to pursue happiness is encumbered.
Have we become so individualistic that we ignore others’ freedom to live in peace?
Gun supporters are advocating for people to carry guns into theaters, schools, churches and other public places. Recently a proponent of a state open-carry law was asked to leave a high school event when he entered carrying his handgun. The same person has filed a lawsuit against a university because it doesn’t permit open carry on its premises.
Meanwhile, gun-control advocates propose a national discussion on gun control. With each mass shooting, the issue is raised and then dropped.
We don’t need a national discussion. We need national action.
A poll by USA Today/Suffolk University reports 56 percent of respondents say tighter gun-control laws won’t prevent more mass shootings.
Someone on social media said: “In retrospect, Sandy Hook [a horrific school shooting in 2012] marked the end of the U.S. gun- control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”
Is this true? Have we become immune to gun violence?
This madness must stop. It seems like we hear of gun deaths daily. We can’t allow the epidemic of gun violence and deaths to continue.
Many say we are a Christian nation. This ought to mean we follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace. If we follow Jesus, our response must be to work to curb the relentless, gun-driven assault on human lives.
Americans have demonstrated that guns are their weapon of choice. Each of us has a choice too. We can acquiesce, or we can work for local and national policies that will curb the proliferation of guns and gun violence.
Have you had enough?
John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., is a regional pastor for Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference.