A three-year-old, along with 12 other people, was shot last night in Chicago at a basketball court. Not even a week has gone by since the mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard that killed 13 people.
It is clear that the frequency of mass shootings in America is accelerating. You can self-comfort and try to believe these incidents are very different; one is a clearly troubled single shooter, the other an incidence of gang-related violence.
They have one important thing in common, however: guns.
President Obama ordered flags to be flown at half-mast around the United States “[a]s a mark of respect for the victims of the senseless acts of violence perpetrated on September 16, 2013.”
Actually, there is nothing “senseless” about these mass shootings. They are the logical outcome of our complete failure as a nation to control guns in any sensible, comprehensive way.
You’ve heard this before, I’ve heard this all before.
Here’s what has changed. Americans have dealt with the fear produced by mass shootings by retreating into our self-assurances that this is indeed “senseless” violence. If we can only believe that mass shootings ‘make no sense,’ then we can escape responsibility for creating gun control laws that will help prevent mass shootings.
Our defensive strategy that mass shootings are “senseless violence” will crumble as the rate accelerates. It’s inevitable. Already Americans are having a harder and harder time believing that all of these mass shootings are random and have no connecting logic.
Jesus of Nazareth laid out the logical relationship between living by weapons and dying by weapons. When Jesus was about to be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, one of his followers pulled out a sword and tried to defend Jesus with the weapon. “Put away your sword,” Jesus commanded, “for those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)
In today’s America, we live by the gun so we are dying by the gun.
The sense is all too plain.
This is the America created by the unholy financial alliance of the gun manufacturing industry and the National Rifle Association (NRA), especially over the last two decades. A “$12 billion-a-year gun industry” gives support to the NRA that in turn does heavy lobbying of Congress that produces legislation such as “the 2005 measure that gave gunmakers and gun distributors broad, and unprecedented, immunity from a wave of liability lawsuits related to gun violence in America’s cities.”
When you add the legislative arm, the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC, you get what a Bill Moyers report calls “The United States of ALEC.” Pro-gun legislation proliferates at the local and state level.
This collective work has produced the flood of guns into our society and the lax to ridiculous gun laws that regulate nothing.
This is the very definition of systemic evil. As my friend and co-author for
Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theology from the Underside
, Mary Potter Engel, writes, “Evil is systemic. It is not superpersonal forces but structures of oppression: patterns larger than individuals and groups with a life of their own that tempt us toward injustice and impiety—social, political, economic arrangements that distort our perceptions or restrain good.”
The culture of gun violence in America is the product of these interlocking forces that have produced “patterns larger than individuals and groups.” The patterns include the proliferation of guns and lax legislation that tempts individuals to commit gun violence on larger and larger scales. It also produces the ‘restraint of the good’ in terms of sensible legislation.
As mass shootings accelerate in the U.S., there is a terrible sense to them. As a Christian and a theologian, I see this as systemic evil, a horrible pattern that is accelerating in its lethal consequences. It may be coming soon to a workplace or basketball court or street near you, unless it already has. The most recent shooting in Chicago occurred only a few miles from my house.
Data from the Pew Research Center tells us, however, that gun control advocates don’t “vote” gun control the way the pro-gun advocates do.
That has to change. We live by the gun and we die by the gun unless we collectively find the courage to say “enough” at the voting booth.
Don’t say Jesus didn’t warn you.
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and Immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. Her most recent book is #OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power. She lives in Chicago.
Image via Elvert Barnes.