Sometimes life grabs you when you’re busy about other things. So it was that I was driving in Florida on Sunday, heading to Palm Beach for a board meeting after having a lovely luncheon with Trinity alumnae in Naples on Saturday. I stopped off along Alligator Alley to do some wildlife photography, and then headed north along the Sawgrass Parkway. But before I reached I-95, after passing Fort Lauderdale, I saw the sign for Parkland, and felt compelled to take a detour. I felt an urge to go pay my respects at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where another great mass murder occurred on February 14 at the hands of a young man with an AR-15 rifle. As an educator and school leader, these school shootings affect me deeply; I find myself trying to imagine what it must be like to have to deal with such an unthinkable tragedy, a terrible lesson to contemplate in thinking about all of the “what if” scenarios of school life today.
At Parkland on Sunday afternoon, I saw a brief, raw glimpse into the unimaginable sorrow. Several thousand people were milling about on the sidewalks outside of the school, walking silently, looking at the hundreds of supportive banners tied to the fence around the school. The crowd was large but silent, orderly, somber, solemn but not in a defeated way, but rather in a way that felt purposeful and resilient. People leaned on each other, pausing to read the signs of solidarity, a surrealistic scene of sorrow under a bright Florida sky. The memorials seemed to go on forever, and great piles of flowers and teddy bears and candles gave silent witness to the endless grief.
I felt myself overcome by a great wave of emotion, to think of the terror of the students and teachers, the horror of parents and families absorbing the news of loved ones gone in an instant, the awful scenes greeting the first responders, the days and days of funerals, the necessary but impossible task of trying to figure out how to resume teaching and learning in the buildings forever marked by the indelible sights and sounds and memories of a mass shooting. The sight of so many students and parents and families and friends gathered against the backdrop of the school buildings surrounded by memorials to the dead and wounded students and staff moved me to tears.
Courageously, some of the students who witnessed the horror of that day are now speaking out, demanding immediate and effective political solutions to the plague of gun violence in this nation. #NeverAgain is the movement gaining traction nationwide.
Shockingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, right-wing gun advocates have taken to Twitter and Facebook and other social media to lambaste and even make death threats against the young people who are raising their voices on behalf of their dead friends and classmates and teachers.
The newly-activist students saw their classmates shredded by a gun that nobody should ever need to own in this nation. They refuse to act like lambs being lead to slaughter. They are standing up and fighting for their right to live, a right now denied to every person slaughtered in the endless, immoral, insane gun violence of this nation.
These lambs will not be silenced. High school students are now showing more moral courage and real conviction for justice than just about any politicians — they are articulating a compelling vision for a future that is safe from the kind of violence that has ruined so many lives across generations. They are organizing many protests including the March for Our Lives on March 24. (Trinity will have a special day of programming on issues of gun control and school safety on Friday, March 23, in solidarity with the students organizing the March 24 demonstrations.)
Guns are not the sole means of murder and mayhem in this nation, nor can we eradicate their presence in American life. But the volume of guns in America — more guns than there are people at last count — speaks to the utterly violent and destructive nature of parts of our culture. The prevalence of guns manifests a culture that is willing to destroy human life with abandon. This is not about hunting or the Second Amendment’s idea of protection for the colonial militia. What the prevalence of guns and the gun lobby are all about — the National Rifle Association‘s spokespeople are not very subtle, their blood-curdling rants at the CPAC convention expose their deeply disordered agenda — is the arming of Americans against Americans, the not-so-subtle threats against the established order, the spreading of a climate of fear and violence that encourages people to arm themselves against their neighbors. (See Michael Gerson’s essay on the perils of the apocalyptic rationale for owning guns.)
The NRA promotes the idea that the rights of gun owners are more important than the right to life, that gun deaths are necessary casualties to protect the right to own guns, that any deaths that come from guns must be a result of other people’s failures. The NRA spokespeople go so far as to claim that God wants people to own guns. A terrific essay posted on the website of the Union Theological Seminary exposes the completely amoral position of the NRA.
We should not be at all surprised that, by fomenting so much casual disrespect for life, by stoking the climate of fear and suspicion against others, encouraging anger and hatred against all who disagree — we should not be at all surprised that in such a climate the ready availability of powerful weapons acquired for socially-destructive purposes are sometimes used exactly for social destruction.
Nobody owns an AR-15 to hunt ducks.
Governance in this nation is supposed to find the means to ensure “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for “We, the People.” The protection of life, the safety and security of the people, is the first and most important task of government. Public officials that are beholden to the gun lobby, to the tune of millions of dollars of NRA political contributions, are unable to make good decisions for the protection of all of the people. An election is coming, and We the People must take the action necessary to install a government with the guts to put the protection of all people, and especially children in school, above all other interests.
The next time a politician blathers about being “pro-life” ask him or her how much money he or she took from the NRA.
See my previous blog about welcoming the high school students who are advocates for justice and peace to Trinity.
And let’s remember the words of Mother Jones: “Pray for the dead. Fight like hell for the living.”