Violence in Aurora and America


Last week, on the day of the shooting in Aurora, Colo., that killed 12 people, I posted a brief comment on my Facebook page. My reflection was an act of the moment intended as a personal note, not something I anticipated would be published widely. Here is what I wrote:

I awoke early this morning in Colorado. It was another gorgeous morning, not a cloud in the sky. I made coffee and then checked the news. Across town in Aurora a dozen people had been killed. We took a walk along Ralston Creek. Such beauty, such tranquility here. Such wanton, senseless violence not far away. Those who worship guns worship a god that demands regular human sacrifice. Why are we horrified at the rituals of human sacrifices by cultures like the Aztecs when our culture worships gods far more violent? May the living victims find healing. May those who loved the dead find comfort. May we some day, some precious day, come to our senses.

I don’t believe any of my Facebook posts has ever had such a response. At last count 213 people “liked” my post and 30 people commented. Perhaps most telling, 110 people shared the post on their page. I can only imagine how many thousands saw it. This wanton killing clearly touched many of us deeply.

A part of me wonders that we can still react so strongly. One would think we Americans would get numb to these killings. They occur so often that they have a quality of repetition.

When we look at other countries, especially other “modern” nations, the number of murders using guns in the United States is simply staggering. A couple of years ago 9,369 people were murdered with guns. (The number of people who commit suicide using a gun is much higher than the number murdered!) The same year there were 144 people murdered in Canada, 14 in the United Kingdom, 12 in Ireland, 269 in Germany. Germany’s 269 is the second highest number among developed nations! For every murder in Germany we kill 35. For every murder in the UK we kill 670. Meditate on that for a moment.

The availability of guns, and especially guns intended exclusively for killing people, clearly has a lot to do with this. We all know about the political clout of the gun lobby and the National Rifle Association (NRA). Bill Moyers just issued a scathing commentary on the NRA.

While I agree with Moyers about the role the NRA has played, I would have us go behind the gun lobby and the murders. What is it about us that gun advocates have such power? Why is it that we cannot have anything resembling a reasonable discussion about what kind of control of weapons is appropriate? I mean, even the NRA does not advocate that individuals should be allowed to own M-1 tanks or tactical nuclear weapons. I have heard no one argue that the right to bear arms applies to attack helicopters or missile firing drone aircraft. If we agree there are some limits, then the debate ought to be about what limits are just and prudent. Yet we cannot have such a discussion in America today.

What is behind this apparent madness? Something very deep, something fundamental, is going on in our culture. The belief in the sanctity of gun ownership has a kind of fervor about it that is normally associated with religious passion.

Theologian Paul Rasor speaks of a “theology of violence” in his recent essay in the UU World. Our culture contains a belief that violence is necessary and that it somehow can save us. Look at the popular heroes in the media and in our history.

I know, you know, we all know, that the shootings in Aurora are just the latest installment. It is going to happen again and again and again. There are too many guns, too many disturbed people, too many opportunities.

Better gun control would help. So would better identification and care for the mentally ill. But they are not enough. We have to address our American glorification of violence.

At one level this is a deeply spiritual issue. Our task as a religious people committed to compassion and to peace is to show a better way. This is important. Thousands and thousands of lives depend on it.

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