Frequently, when I was a kid, I’d go shooting with family. I shot replica M1-Garands, shotguns, AR-15s, handguns, and more. I remember one time holding a handgun, I can’t remember if it was Colt .44 or what, but when I pulled the trigger, the kickback knocked me backwards and my hands ached, from the grips. I enjoyed shooting, going out to the country and aiming down the barrel and firing at dirt or cans. I remember my grandfather, in the shed behind his house, filling his own shell casings with powder. He’d make his own bullets in his shed. I remember being taught to respect guns and to handle them properly. I recall these memories fondly. Even with these memories, I haven’t shot a gun in years, except virtually.
Over the past two weeks, in two separate mass shootings, thirty-one people have been murdered. Ten killed in a white supremacist attack in Buffalo and twenty-one, nineteen of them children, in an elementary school in Uvalde. At the time of this writing, over there have been over two hundred mass shootings in the United States in 2022. Today is only May, 25, the 145th day of the year. That means there have been over fifty more mass shootings this year than days of the year so far. Robb Elementary marks the twenty-seventh school shooting of 2022, the twenty-seventh! Let that sink in. There have been one-hundred and nineteen school shootings since 2018. These numbers don’t even include shootings involving individual gun deaths.
Right when I got back to my office after a walk yesterday, a friend texted me asking if I’d seen anything about what was happening at Robb Elementary. At that time, no news was available on the number killed or injured. When I picked my son up from school, more news started coming out. He was in the car with me when I heard that two people had died. At that time, too, we didn’t know who the individuals were. He asked me, “Were they kids or adults?” I couldn’t answer him definitively, but I essentially told him, “Any loss is grave.”
I watched the news off and on throughout the evening, waiting to see what President Biden would say during his remarks. I kept thinking about my own kids and sending them to school each day. I kept thinking about the fact that every time I enter a new space, whether it be a church, a theater, a shopping center, or any where else, I immediately scan the area and think about where a possible shot could come from and what I would do in such a situation. I make a threat assessment. I did this when my son started at school. I looked at his room and noticed the doors, where the doors opened to, and the spaces within the room for “protection.” Why must we do this? Why do we have to assess these potential threats when it comes to our children and ourselves? Why?
One could see pain and heartbreak when Biden spoke as he addressed the nation from his heart as he held back tears. He spoke about the tragic loss of innocent children and adults. He spoke about the actions we need to take to stop events like this from occurring. He spoke to console.
After Biden delivered his remarks, I decided to flip over to Fox News to see what Tucker Carlson would say. Before Biden even left the room, Carlson dove into criticizing the remarks, calling Biden “frail, confused, bitterly partisan, desecrating the memory of recently murdered children,” arguing that Biden was “dividing the country.” Tucker then spoke with Will Cain, and both condemned the President’s remarks for being “political.” The chyron on the bottom of the screen read, “Biden politicizes Texas tragedy in divisive speech.” The machine moved quickly to use “grief” as a weapon to politicize. Carlson knew what he was doing.
All of this made me think about so much of what I see everyday. During election season, I drive by yard signs for a U.S. Congressman that have the silhouette of an AR-15 on them and say, “Protect the 2nd.” I see signs supporting a gubernatorial candidate who has “Jesus, Guns, and Babies” plastered on her campaign bus. I see a U.S. Senate candidate giving away an AR-15 a week, for eight weeks, in a raffle to support his campaign. I drive by gun stores and see “Let’s Go Brandon” yard signs. I see, on social media, a church doing a fundraiser to support their summer mission trip. The fundraiser was a raffle where individuals could buy $10 tickets for the chance to win a custom AR-15 and a 9MM pistol. Now, tell someone, “Don’t get political” when all around us we see candidates and politicians flouting guns and rhetoric to “Protect the 2nd.”
I see all of this, and I think, constantly, about the conflation of Christian nationalism and guns. I think about Idaho’s Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin posing in a truck for a video with a gun in one hand and a bible in the other. I think about flags that read, “God, Guns, and Trump,” or “God, Guns, Guts, and Glory.” The conflation of these things, especially when Evangelicals tout that they are being persecuted creates a powder keg, not just for mass shootings but for any shooting. It creates an “us” versus “them” narrative that squashes any discussion of what is best for our children and society because it places individuals on the defensive, using fear to stoke the narrative. This thread is deadly, and I think about songs such as Five Iron Frenzy’s “Renegades” or A Perfect Circle’s “TalkTalk” here because each of those songs address this conflation.
In “Renegades,” Reese Roper ties in the ways that evangelicalism and Christian nationalism prop up the gun lobby, as well as the ways that the masculine construction of Jesus, as Kristen Du Mez writes about in Jesus and John Wayne, tells followers that they don’t want “pacifists.” Instead, they blot out Sandy Hook, Parkland, Robb Elementary, and more. In “TalkTalk,” Maynard James Keenan directly confronts people who offer “thoughts and prayers” yet still don’t call for any action when it comes to gun control. He sings, “You’re waiting on miracles/We’re bleeding out/Thoughts and prayers.” Instead of action, deliberation or the talk of deliberation occurs. Keenan points out that instead of simply talking like Jesus (praying for the victims) we need to “try walking like Jesus” and actually find a solution to all of this. Jesus would pray, yes, but he would also work to find a solution to this continuous violence.
I don’t have an answer to any of this. I know that arming teachers isn’t the answer. I know that the “what stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” rhetoric isn’t the answer. I know that “constitutional carry” isn’t the answer. I know that active shooter drills shouldn’t be the normal. I know thinking about the exits in my children’s classrooms or my church or the theater shouldn’t be the normal. I know that something must be done, but it didn’t get done following Columbine. It didn’t get done following Sandy Hook. It didn’t get done following Parkland. It didn’t get done following any other mass shooting: Charleston, Las Vegas, El Paso, Dallas, Washington D.C. . . . It didn’t get done. It needs to get done.
As Biden asked during his remarks, “Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen? Where in God’s name is our backbone to have the courage to deal with it and stand up to the lobbies?” Why? That is the question I keep asking myself.