She was among the many who succumbed to the hail of bullets from her brother. It most likely never crossed her mind that she would be shot by her brother. Perhaps neither did he imagine that his sister would be one of his victims. Maybe, just maybe, if he knew his sister was in the crowd, that would have made a difference. We may never know for sure, but what we do know is on that single evening in Dayton, Ohio, a mother and father lost two children through an act of violence perpetrated by one of them. Several other mothers and fathers also lost their children that same night, by the hands of that same man.
Across the country in El Paso, Texas, another gunman - raging with hatred and pent-up anger - walked into a Walmart and shot at least twenty-two people to death. Among his victims was a seventy-seven-year-old man who took a bullet for the sake of his wife. As the gunman shot his victims, a soldier was also busily working to shield children from the hatred that spewed from that WASR-10 rifle.
For the life of me, I find it difficult to imagine how people reach a point in their lives where another person’s life is of such little to no value that they can perpetrate any act of violence towards them. Families across America are hurting; they wail in the middle of the night in silence, for it appears they have lost their voices. Families lie on their beds, and stare at their ceilings in hopelessness. Many are those who wonder, "What can we do about this recurring menace?" or, "What should our political leaders do about this menace?"
I am always reminded of a story about Senator Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio. He is a man I have come to respect. He was against gay marriage, against the adoption of children by gay parents, and voted for a constitutional amendment against gay marriage. However, an incident happened in his life that caused him to change his position. That incident involved his son. His middle child came out as gay and, for that reason, he changed his mind. I believe he came to realize that, because his opposition was no longer theoretical nor about others, but was against his own son, he changed his mind. "Well," you may ask, "what has Senator Portman changing his mind got to do with gun violence?"
The terrible tragedy we all face is the assumption that we are somewhat insulated from any act of gun violence. We might say: we live in a suburb, our homes are secured, our children’s schools are secured with an officer on standby. We convince ourselves with all sorts of platitudes that are meant to comfort us into thinking that no such act would be committed against us. And I agree. But if you think about these issues more deeply, you will come to realize that the El Paso killings were at a Walmart, the Dayton massacre was at a bar, Sandy Hook was at a school, the 2018 Pittsburgh killings were in a Synagogue, and the 2015 Charleston killings were in a church. Sara Kirkpatrick, Christ Church's Junior Warden, recently attended a seminar on how churches and different organizations should respond to the epidemic of gun violence. The reality is that these perpetrators choose easy targets, places where they can inflict the most damage on the most people.
I have these questions for your consideration: are you planning on not going to the Columbia Mall during the holidays? Are you planning on not going to Walmart any longer? Are you planning on eating at home for the rest of your life? Are you planning on not ever visiting a theater to see a good movie? Are you planning on no longer worshiping at Christ Church, or any other church? Maybe you can protect yourself, but can you protect your children through all the days of their lives? No, you cannot. Can you protect your loved ones and grandchildren all the same? No, you cannot. At some point, they also would all become vulnerable to these very things we see happen to other people. And, insofar as neither you nor anyone you know can completely insulate themselves from gun violence, you do not need to wait to be a victim before you speak out or change your mind on an issue - as Senator Portman did. You can change your mind, but you don’t have to wait until it comes a little too close to home.
There’s a West African story of a man who had so many insurmountable problems at home that he sought the help of a fetish priest in dealing with his many issues. After narrating all his problems to the fetish priest, the priest asked the gentleman to return in two weeks with some samples of dirt from his compound. On the appointed day, the gentleman returned to see the priest with the sample of dirt.
After performing his rituals, the priest said to him, "I don't know if you can handle hearing this."
The man responded, "Go ahead. I want to hear it."
The fetish priest then said to him, "Your two boys are not your sons, your daughter is seeing five different men, and your wife is pregnant from your own brother. The man looked incredulously at the fetish priest, and burst out in laughter. The fetish priest was bemused, and asked him, "Why are you laughing? These are some very serious issues that you are dealing with, so why are you laughing?"
The man then said to the priest, "I was running late on my way to see you and I forgot to bring the dirt sample, so I dug out some dirt from your compound." The priest couldn’t believe his ears.
We've all heard cries similar to the sister’s cry of agony, but most of us have become like this fetish priest, offering diagnoses about others when those diagnoses are really about us. The problem isn’t solely with the two recent gunmen, or any other perpetrator of gun violence; the real problem is about a society that has to endure these perennial violent acts perpetrated upon its people - defenseless people, if I may add - and a society that appears to tolerate these acts with the offers of thoughts and prayers, and then tragically move on as if nothing ever happened. You know why? Because it isn’t close enough to home, yet.
I am not advocating for the abolition of gun rights, for I know many responsible people who own guns. But my burning question is, "Is it at all possible, is it within the framework of human imagination to have sensible gun laws which would, at the barest minimum, ensure that you and I and the people we love can go about shopping, eating, drinking, worshiping, dancing, learning, and living in an environment where they don’t have to wonder about the next gunman? If it is possible, then why don’t we do it? Where is that courage and moral fortitude?"
Bear in mind, none of us are truly insulated from any of these tragedies, and we do not have to wait until we become a victim, or a loved one becomes a victim, before we fight for the change that is necessary. By then, it might be a little too late.
A sister’s cry echoes through Dayton today, and throughout the country. But it appears lost in the midst of a cacophony of screams we hear at the bar, at Walmart, and in many other places. But we hear it nonetheless. The good thing is we hear the cry. And whenever we hear a cry, as faint or as loud as it may be, we are moved by compassion to act.
I hope this cry will move us to act.