Pray for Healing, Fight for Justice: A Response to the Sutherland Springs Mass-Shooting

I am heartbroken over the news of yesterday’s mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. 26 people, ranging from toddlers to retirees, including eight members of a single family, were murdered in cold blood.

I extend my heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families, the First Baptist congregation, the community of Sutherland Springs, and the State of Texas. I pray for comfort, healing, and peace.

At the same time, even as someone who believes in the power and importance of prayer, I know that prayer alone will not solve the American gun violence epidemic that claims 30,000 lives each year. We need legislation that keeps guns from dangerous people. So long as the slaughter of innocents is tolerated and enabled by popular lethargy, political cowardice, and corporate greed, the next tragedy is not a matter of “if,” but of “when?” and “where?”

True, there are factors that contribute to gun violence besides guns: the expense, inaccessibility, and stigmas of mental health treatment; the fact that kids in our broken education system become more likely to live lives of poverty, violence, and crime; the link between rising poverty and deepening economic inequality and violent crime.

There is also the fact that most perpetrators of mass shootings are men, and many have prior histories of violence against women. It is critical that we address the cultural norm that equates masculinity with violence, and the misogyny, sexual assault, and domestic violence that remains rampant in our society. We cannot solve the problem of gun violence without seriously addressing these and other issues, too.

However, let these factors not distract us from the central issue: the guns. From Sutherland Springs to Sandy Hook, from Las Vegas to Aurora, from Virginia Tech to Columbine, the one thing all these mass shooting events have in common is guns. To end them, we have to deal with the guns.

Indeed, tragedies like these are a uniquely American horror. In no other industrialized nation besides ours do mass shooting events occur with the frequency and intensity they do here. The distinguishing factor is that those other countries have common-sense regulations on gun ownership, and we repeatedly fail to enact even the most basic of reforms.

Some will point to the fact that the “bad guy with a gun” in Sutherland Springs was ultimately stopped by a “good guy with a gun.” That individual is indeed a hero and undoubtedly saved many lives. But if the “bad guy” didn’t have a gun in the first place, there would have been no need for an armed good samaritan. Moreover, even when “good guys” have guns, bad things happen. A gun in the home is more likely to harm the people inside than it is to protect them. There is also a strong link between access to guns and gun deaths. Additionally, armed defense is not a guarantee of security, and dangerous people with access to weapons are, well, markedly more dangerous.

But we are not resigned to this fate. The Torah commands us to choose life (Deut. 30:19), insisting that it is in our power to create a society where everyone can go to school, attend church or synagogue, and enjoy their lives without having to fear random eruptions of violence, carried out with easily accessible weapons of war. It is time for us to end this scourge.

The biblical prophet Amos said that God will reject our prayers until we make “justice well up like water and righteousness like a mighty stream” (5:24). Let us then not only pray for the people of Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas, Orlando, Sandy Hook, and so many others whose lives have been shattered by gun violence. Let us demand justice and righteous change, for them, and for all the people of our land.

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