(RNS) There have been two very different sets of responses to last week’s mass shooting in Roseburg, Ore. The shooter killed nine people before taking his own life during a shootout with police, in what was the 142nd school shooting since Sandy Hook, in December 2012, when six teachers and 20 children were killed.
Gun rights advocates and gun control supporters alike have used the opportunity to politicize the tragedy. That isn’t, in itself, a bad thing. If politics is the business of governing a diverse body of people, and guns are both used and governed, then our response to repeated mass shootings ought to be, at least in part, a political one.
To “politicize” something that is inherently political isn’t a dirty thing. In fact, to keep ignoring mass shootings, to refuse to change gun control policy because of the power of the National Rifle Association lobby, to let 20 children die and take no national action to restrict gun access in this country — indeed, to vote against an assault-weapons ban — that is the dirty thing.
Why, then, do so many people insist that the right to gun ownership ought to take precedence over the lives of innocent people? They may never say as much, but that is what’s at play when folks like conservative pundit Erick Erickson — who claims to be pro-life — posts a tweet saying “I’m going to go buy more guns this weekend” one day after the shooting in Oregon.
Erickson wasn’t alone. Tennessee’s lieutenant governor, Republican Ron Ramsey, wrote in a Facebook post that he “would encourage my fellow Christians who are serious about their faith to think about getting a handgun carry permit.” Journalist Rory Carroll posted a picture to Twitter of Candie Kinney, co-owner of the Roseburg Gun Shop in Oregon, with a big grin on her face. “Always a rush after a big shooting,” she told him. Donald Trump suggested that if the college where the shooting took place hadn’t been a gun-free zone, an armed student or teacher might have taken the shooter down much earlier.
Never mind that the statistics don’t bear this out; that in 2012 there were 259 justifiable homicides with guns but 8,342 criminal homicides using guns. That same year, 20,666 killed themselves with guns, and there were 548 fatal unintentional shootings. Guns in the hands of civilians do us as a society much more harm than good, and if it were up to the NRA’s leaders, I imagine they would want the “well-regulated” clause taken out of the Second Amendment altogether.
The second set of reactions have had a different tenor. The Rev. Will Irwin, pastor of Family Church outside of Roseburg, told The Washington Post that he preached a sermon on forgiveness after the shooting: “Some are angry at the shooter, some are angry at politicians, some are angry at officials,” Irwin said. “This gave people a chance to process. They were looking for that.”
The Rev. Rob Schenck has long been a pro-life activist, but after the 2013 shooting at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard, he expanded the scope of his activism to include gun control. “When we say, ‘Nobody will ever take my life, I’ll take theirs,’ it contradicts the Christian life and message,” he said.
If Christians are called to follow the example of the one who laid down his life for the sake of others, we need to start doing so immediately. There were 20 children at Sandy Hook who we could have laid down our lives for, and we did not. There are nine more people dead now. If we don’t, nothing will change. This will play out again and again, and we will mourn for a day or two — if that — before we revert to bitterly divided arguments about rights.
My rights don’t matter as much as another person’s life.
(Laura Turner is a writer and editor living in San Francisco. In addition to being a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s “Her.meneutics” blog, she has also written for publications such as Books & Culture and The Bold Italic.)
LM/MG END TURNER