In January 1995 Wendell Williamson, a graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill, walked down a busy street and began shooting an automatic weapon at people. He killed two and injured two others before being wounded by police officers and arrested. Five months later I became his pastor at the church where his parents were members at the time. They had become hermits, unable to go to the local store for fear of how people would treat them. Mind you, they had done nothing wrong. They were the most shocked by what their son did. He was a normal kid growing up. He was active in the youth group. When he finished college they began to sense an uneasiness about him. They knew he was seeing a counselor at school. They had no knowledge of his hallucinations and that he had purchased weapons. They, and others in NC, would learn how easy it was for him to purchase the weapons with no checks or efforts to discover he was in counseling at the university. His parents became two more victims of the tragedy and their son continues to serve a life sentence in the state mental hospital.
Every time I hear of a gunman's rampage, like Las Vegas, I think of the Williamsons. I understand the horror from the perspective of the family of the killer. Of course it is true that guns don't kill, people kill, but given the fact that there is enough warped substance in people's heads and hearts to kill, does it not behoove us to limit the means by which they can do it?
I know, stay away from this, right? Now is not the time. People are hurting. Besides it is not the job of the pastor or church to wade into a political debate. Well, this is a life issue, and the last I checked, the church has much to say about the sanctity of life. My hope is that this might be an issue that brings our leaders together, liberal and conservative. I believe in the right to bear arms (surprise you?). I believe hunters ought to be allowed to carry guns. I believe people have a right to defend themselves. But automatic weapons, military kinds of weapons, that is another issue. Is it not time to look at changing something about our laws? After all the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing (or not doing!) and expect different results. If we continue not to change anything, can we not expect more, and each incident to be a new "worst?"
Nearly all first world countries have much tougher gun laws and experience significantly fewer gun violence killings. We used to. In the Old West days, when outlaws began to threaten the peace and security of a town, gun laws went into effect. Citizens would have to turn over their guns to local magistrates when they came into city limits. (http://articles.latimes.com/
2011/jan/23/nation/la-na- tombstone-20110123) The old saying might be true, "if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have them," but at least fewer outlaws have them, and studies show shootings go down. In fact, it's not the outlaws with guns who pose the greatest threat, it's the Wendell Williamsons, Stephen Paddocks, Adam Lanzas (Newtown, CT shooter), Dylan Roofs (Charleston), and so many more - people who by all accounts appear normal, sane, and able to own a gun responsibly.
I have opened myself up to attack, but believe it or not I am doing my job as a United Methodist pastor. Read our Book of Resolutions statement on gun violence (http://www.umc.org/what-we-
believe/gun-violence) The first responsibility is not to avoid the issue! Sure there are differences of opinion and good people stand on both sides. Let's at least agree that guns are a central issue in many innocent deaths each year. As Christians called to preserve life, let's do our best to learn and understand what can be done to improve the safety of people. And before you send me an email, take some time to pray. Just ask God, "What can we do to further your peace, Lord?"
Yes, I believe we can do more than we are. And I believe the church needs to lead the way in standing against violence and addressing ways we can reduce gun violence. I don't castigate those of different opinion and desperately want us to come together, learn and seek ways to make our nation a "home of the free." I believe now is the time.
So let me close with a prayer for the victims of last Sunday and for other tragedies happening in our world...
Lord, our hearts are broken. It's that plain and simple. We are so tired of massacres. Yet, we are not without response. We begin by praying. Bless and comfort the many family members of the victims. Be a refuge to them. Heal and help the wounded. Forgive the killer, as no doubt such action came from a disturbed soul and mind. And show us what we can do to make our country safer. Don't let us retreat into distraction until another tragedy. Help us to find unity around protecting people. Who knows but that our willingness to do more might save the life of someone we know, maybe ourselves.
And in the ongoing heartache of storm victims throughout our country pour out your mercy. Thank you for the generosity of so many whose contributions are providing sources of help and hope. Help the despairing, heal the hurting and lift up the fallen. We pray this in the name of the Prince of Peace, the anchor of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.