In the early hours before our church retreat at Massanetta Springs, 8 people were shot and injured in Harrisonburg. As of my writing this, another person has been shot and killed here in the city. In Richmond, over the course of one month, there were 26 recorded incidents of gun violence, resulting in 9 deaths and 21 injuries. Some of these happened in the neighborhood where Teresa Harris’ daughter teaches. Gun violence continues to hit closer and closer to home.
How do we live in this reality? We have lost the luxury of feeling like this is a problem for *those* communities who have experienced tragedy. Some of us lost that luxury years ago. Our children regularly have lockdown drills, also called “active shooter” drills. At times, the question has been asked whether we need to amp up the security at church. Should we keep the doors locked at all times? Lock them once worship has started? We have designated our church as a gun-free zone, but other congregations have chosen to have armed individuals on site.
I have resisted allowing toy guns at home - including Nerf or water guns. I did get them water “blasters” for Christmas last year, and we’ve had conversations around the differences between guns and blasters. What about toys with other projectile objects? (We’ve got some.) What about a Nerf bow and arrow? (I won’t risk ruining a Christmas surprise here.) I’m feeling my way through these decisions and conversations as we go, but the way that I’ve framed the gun discussion is this: our country has a really unhealthy, destructive relationship with guns.
We’ve talked about the fact that many of the shooters in mass shootings look a lot like them - or more accurately, like their older cousins. We’ve talked about how many people who have real guns in the home don’t secure them properly, and how horrible tragedies have occurred when children - even toddlers - have found them. We’ve talked about how guns in the home are far more likely to be used to harm people that live there than to protect against armed intruders. I really wish this wasn’t their reality, or our reality, but it is.
This month we are blessed to have the Rev. Dr. David Ensign, Interim Executive Director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, to preach and lead nurture for us on November 20. I hope that you all can make plans to attend in person, online, or to watch the videos of worship and nurture following his visit, to hear about the work of PPF and what some communities are doing to bring peace and prevent gun violence.
We need more than thoughts and prayers. We need change at every level. If you haven’t voted yet, make a plan to do so next Tuesday. Check in with friends or neighbors who might need some assistance getting to the polls. Moms Demand Action has created a website to identify “Gun Sense Candidates.” (https://gunsensevoter.org/gun-sense-voting-candidates/) Other organizations have similar tools, to help voters cut through the rhetoric and choose leaders who will lead with courage to address gun violence and other issues we are facing. Regardless of who you vote for, contact your elected officials to let them know that you are concerned about gun violence, and to let them know how you’d like them to support common sense gun legislation. This doesn’t have to be our reality.
On this All Saints Day, when we remember the saints who have gone before us, we also remember, with deep love, Jim Atwood. We are grateful for his prophetic witness and relentless work to end gun violence. May we continue the work of Jim and others, and continue the call to be peacemakers in our community, country, and beyond.
Grace and Peace,