after one more damn bloody shooting and killing…

Yesterday, November 5, 2017, the Sunday after All Saints’ Day, an armor-clad Devin Patrick Kelley, wielding an assault rifle, stormed the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 and wounding 20 before fleeing, eventually ending his life with a self-inflicted injury.

Two expressions, now sadly, demonstrably repeatable fill the air. The first, on its face, admirable, in the light of common human good will, eliciting “the thoughts and prayers” for the dead and the grieving. The second, on its face, understandable, in the light of the presumed motives of the shooters when terrorism is ruled out as a cause, attributing mental illness or homicidal derangement.

In the light and shadow of this latest mass shooting, there are three things I am not.

I am not opposed to having my thoughts lifted and my prayers ascend. God forbid! Verily, I think of and pray for the dead and grieving, and

I am not predisposed to dismiss mental illness as a precipitating factor in a shooter’s furious, death-dealing act of violence, and

I am not anti-Second Amendment. I am not against private, individual, and socially-responsible gun ownership.

However, I, wanting and willing, beseeching and begging Congress to do something, am in favor of gun control, both the stricter enforcement of laws already on the books and the enactment of firmer guards, for example, eliminating the availability of and access to assault weaponry and more detailed background checks and waiting periods before the completion of the gun-purchase process.

Tonight, on this Monday following the Sunday after All Saints’ Day, in my tortured lifting of my thoughts and the agonizing ascension of my prayers…

I sing a song of the saints of God…

you can shoot them in school or in lanes or at sea,

in church or in trains or in shops or at tea,

for the saints of God are just folk like me,

and I wish – myself and all still alive – not to be one, too.[1]



[1] A paraphrase of the 1929 words of Lesbia Scott (1898-1986)


if…then…: part 2 – hazarding some answers

I ended yesterday’s blog post (October 9, 2017: if…then…): I wonder, why can we not, will we not, do we not fashion legislation geared toward the prevention of more acts of gun violence or, at the least, compel strictest compliance with gun laws already on the books?

In my continuing wonderment, I hazard some answers or rather, in the fairness of honesty – for the subject of gun control, though my concern, is beyond my realm of expertise – some guesses to my question.

It would be easy, too easy, therefore, I think, unfair and dishonest, to attribute or blame “it” (our American unwillingness to do anything more vigorously legislative concerning gun control) on the National Rifle Association and the greater gun lobby. Yes, with the support of millions upon millions of dollars and millions of gun-rights advocates, the NRA can and does influence elections and, therefore, legislation or no legislation.

Yet that’s only a part of it, for, it seems to me, the immobility of our inability to do anything is, must be a complex matter rooted (again, hazarding a guess) in our national psyche. And this rootedness in the soil of the American soul (again, hazarding a guess) has to do with the power of the symbol of the gun.

Now, I’m not opposed to individual, private gun ownership. However, I neither have owned nor desire to own a gun. So, in an effort to understand, dreaming my way into a mindset other than mine own…

If I was or wanted to be a gun owner, then I wonder might that be an expression of my desire and need to take individual hold in hand (literally! physically!) of:

  • my 2nd Amendment rights and freedoms, especially in reaction and resistance to what I perceive (indeed, fear) as the external intrusion and erosion of those rights and freedoms by the government? Perhaps, and even deeper,
  • my sense of security in an era of unparalleled (read: uncertain, power-shifting, and status quo-threatening) social and cultural change? Perhaps, and still deeper,
  • my self-confidence in the glaring light and encroaching shadow of my ever-increasing awareness that I control little to nothing of the circumstance and chance of this world I inhabit and thus, the life I live (where even my free choices are in response to uncontrollable circumstance and chance)? Perhaps, and

If any (or all) of my guesses and more than I possibly can guess – all powerful, abiding, perhaps unconscious and, thus, unspoken reasons, verily, forces – are true, then I don’t wonder (or, at least, I wonder less) why we can’t, won’t, don’t fashion legislation geared toward the prevention of more acts of gun violence or, at the least, compel strictest compliance with gun laws already on the books.


Subtitle: hypothetical (conditional) conclusions

Sub-Subtitle – A Prefatory Disclaimer: I don’t have all (any of?) the facts and this is outside of my field of expertise (though not outside my range of intense interest), thus, doubtless, there are vast holes in my argument; nevertheless, I wonder…

If airliner and automobile crashes lead to legislation and regulations to make airliner and automobile travel safer, and

If airliner crashes, by dint of the number of casualties, can be considered akin to mass shootings as automobile crashes can be considered akin to single (or less than four, thus, not mass) fatality incidences of gun violence, and

If (and if it can be proven that), in most cases, airliner and automobile crashes are caused by environmental (weather-and/or-road-related) factors or mechanical failure or pilot/driver error, and

If, in many (most? all?) cases, mass-and-single-fatality gun violence is the result of human premeditation,

Then, I wonder, why can we not, will we not, do we not fashion legislation geared toward the prevention of more acts of gun violence or, at the least, compel strictest compliance with gun laws already on the books?

predictable patterns?

On October 1, 2017, in another American mass shooting, 59 people were killed (one being the assailant from a self-inflicted gunshot wound) and over 500 injured. By the numbers, this is the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

Still, I think, I feel that all whose loved ones died last year in Orlando, Florida or in San Bernardino, California in 2015 or in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012 or in Blacksburg, Virginia in 2007 (or in any other incident in our ongoing national saga of mass violence), for as long as they grieve, which will be for as long as they live, may consider those the deadliest mass shootings.

Since Sunday, as in the instances of all mass shootings, I observe a predictable pattern; some, not all of the elements being…

Every one of us of goodwill, regardless of race or religion or no religion, class or culture, personal philosophy or opinion, decries the murders.

Some of us demand and some of us resist renewed efforts to enact tighter gun control laws; and, in this, some of us in either camp vilify the motives and the morals of some of those in the other.[1]

Still others of us contend that, for the sake of compassion for the mournful, the immediate aftermath of the tragedy is not the time to engage in political combat.

And, inevitably, all of us who live will “get on with it”, going back to living our lives as we have known them, that is, until the next mass shooting.

However, on this last score, something for me, something in me has changed. Perhaps it is because, as I age, I find myself more attuned to and pained by our human trials and tribulations, worries and woes, sufferings and sorrows. Yes, mine own, yet, even more, those of others, all others.[2] Thus, though I will “get on with it”, I won’t, can’t get over it.

What I think, feel, believe this means for me is that my awareness of human mortality and life’s fragility, suddenly, shockingly, sickeningly renewed this past Sunday, will not, will never fade…

What this means is that I, every day, will be more conscious that all of us are mortal, we will die, and that all of us are fragile, our lives, whether by natural calamity or human violence, accident or disease, can be tragically transformed in an instant…

What this means is that I pledge to live with more intention than I ever dared to dream…

And, on this feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, I can think of no greater, grander guide than to live my life in the conscious keeping of the prayer attributed to him:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace!

That where there is hatred, I may bring love.

That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness.

That where there is discord, I may bring harmony.

That where there is error, I may bring truth.

That where there is doubt, I may bring faith.

That where there is despair, I may bring hope.

That where there are shadows, I may bring light.

That where there is sadness, I may bring joy.

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort, than to be comforted.

To understand, than to be understood.

To love, than to be loved.

For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.

It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.

It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life.



[1] Here, I think, in political terms, it has become all too facile to cast Democrats as gun control advocates and Republicans as gun rights activists. For it seems to me that either the stance of gun control or that of the Second Amendment “right of the people to keep and bear Arms” is not the sole interest or desire of any party or persuasion. Indeed, I have been surprised, which, confessedly, reveals more about my biases and assumptions, when discovering that a friend, an avid hunter and combat veteran, is a longtime believer in strict gun laws and another friend, who has never owned or desired to own a gun, is a staunch supporter of individual gun rights.

[2] I wrote about this in a previous blog post, continuing becoming… (August 30, 2017).

guns & insecurity

Today, I woke up thinking about guns (as sadly, given the events of this past weekend in New York and New Jersey, soon I will ruminate on bombs). Again.

Picking up where I ended my September 17 post, guns & loss, I asked myself: Why, Paul, would you feel less secure if you believed more people were carrying more guns? Because, I heard myself mumble aloud, quoting the slogan of one of America’s most powerful political action groups, the National Rifle Association, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

For years, with these mere seven words, the NRA has summarized its argument against governmental restrictions on guns. The problem isn’t the weapon (which, say, unloaded and resting on a gun rack or locked in a safe, harms no one), but rather the person who wields it.


In much the same way, I think, as an automobile parked in a driveway or a bottle of alcohol sitting on a shelf or even an illicit drug stowed in a hidden compartment doesn’t kill people, those who drive recklessly, drink irresponsibly, distribute illegally can and do kill people.

Yes, these are extreme examples (especially concerning illicit drugs, the uses of which harbor an inherent lethality). Yet most people most of the time do not drive or drink negligently or foolishly drink and drive and most people do not sell or dispense unlawful narcotics.

However, if more people possessed more guns, I will more than guess, I will predict that we will experience more gun violence, accidental and intentional.


Because people are flawed. As a pastor, though now retired (more or less!), who experienced, largely joyfully, a nearly 40-year active ministry, I am soberly and sincerely aware that human beings, even at our best, fall short of the glory of God. Here, however, I desire not to talk about other people and only about me.

A confession. For a host of reasons, many rooted in my formative years, I am sensitive to hurt and prone to anger. O’er time, with the wisdom of experience and the mollification of age, the razor’s edge of anger has been dulled. Somewhat. Verily, my capacity for ire has proven useful, even helpful in the ministry of service when turned toward the care of others. I hate suffering, especially of society’s least, last, and lost. I hate the systemic and institutional imbalances that perpetuate what I call “the iniquity of inequity.” Still, I continue to know myself to be one whose fury can flash in an instant when I feel affronted, especially when I perceive the insulting word or deed was intended. In those instances, were I to have a gun at hand, would I use it to chasten (frighten, injure, or worse) my offender? I would like to think not, but, truth to tell, I cannot be certain. One thing I do know. In a moment of maddened passion, would I think about using my gun? Doubtless, yes.

Here, again, I do not, dare not universalize my experience of self. Everyone is not like me. Still, I do not believe I am alone in this world as one whose belly is a cauldron of ever-bubbling irritation, thus susceptible to the encouragement, the enragement of resentment that can provoke even the thought of vengeful retaliation.

Hence, for me, the image of more guns in more hands in more times and in more places is a modern day apocalyptic vision, leaving me not only feeling less secure, but terrified.

guns & loss

This morning, following my yesterday’s blog post, gun uncontrol, I continue to think about guns. From what I glean from news reportage, personal reading, and my encounters with gun owners in public and private conversations, a chief motivator for desiring to carry arms is personal security. I accept and respect what I consider a basic, intrinsic human want, need to self-protect, particularly as we live in an era when mass shootings have become sorrowfully repeatable historical events.

On a recent occasion when I probed further and the dialogue went deeper, what I heard from a proud, years-long, law-abiding gun owner was wistful longing, as I perceived it, for “a back in the day time” when safety was a general, almost taken for granted daily aspect of societal life. Reflecting on what I heard, the passion and the pathos, I understood, I felt a sense of the loss of yesterday.

I have a bias against owning a firearm. In my view, my mere possession of it would increase the possibility of my using it and the risk of an accidental injury or worse. I would feel less safe with a gun in the house and at hand.

In confessing my prejudice, I deem not to make too much of one conversation with one gun owning person. I dare not generalize one person’s testimony of loss to speak for anyone but that one.

Still, I wonder.

Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy has engendered great enthusiasm among his supporters. I think especially of his appeal to his voter base declaring that “Hillary Clinton will take away your Second Amendment gun rights.” In May, speaking to the National Rifle Association, he advocated that Clinton’s security detail “disarm.” Last night in Miami, following his now predictable pattern of doubling down on what is, I think, at best sarcastic innuendo and at worst demagogic invective, Trump urged that Clinton’s bodyguards “lose their weapons,” adding, “Let’s see what happens to her.” These remarks, always campaign stop rallying points, provoke zealous cheering and booing (on its face, oddly perhaps, both expressions of intense agreement).

So, I wonder. Are there other Americans who make a connection between their sense of security in gun ownership, their fear, I think, irrational of having their guns taken away, and their anxiety at the loss of former times, however defined? Highly probable? I don’t know. At all possible? Of course, yes.

Pondering that possibility, I also wonder whether yearning for the past coupled with gun ownership has anything to do with power; the gun at or in hand being a symbol not only of the restoration of personal security and safety, but also the reclamation of individual control in an out of control world.

Here, I dare not universalize my sense of things, but if I believed that more people were carrying more guns more often in more public places, then I would feel less secure.

gun uncontrol

On September 14, the Republican-controlled Senate in my home state of Missouri voted 24-6 to override the Republican Governor Jay Nixon’s veto of legislation that removes the requirement of a permit to conceal and carry a firearm and includes a “stand your ground” provision granting citizens the legal right to defend themselves if they feel threatened. The Governor, with his veto, contended, in part, that the bill would make the state less safe by stripping local law enforcement of the authority to require gun owners to complete a firearm safety training course and to pass a background check before being issued a permit. There is an attendant fear, should the bill, which will be sent to the state House of Representatives for consideration, become law that guns will be accessible to folk previously denied permits, for example, as I imagine, those convicted of domestic violence.

Doubtless there are nuances of the legislative floor debate that I have missed. Still, for me, on its face, this action by the Missouri Senate is an example of gun uncontrol.