The back yard of the parsonage where I live is a thick wood of conservation land, a tangle of trees and vines, stumps and mammoth ferns, and the homes of deer, foxes, and fishercats. A deck provides the perfect spot for mulling life over a cup of coffee. Somewhere on the other side of the woods is a gun club and, I have heard, someone's personal, private firing range. So my lugubrious coffee-soaked contemplations are frequently punctuated by pops of gunfire.
Tonight, sitting inside, I heard a burst of rapid gunfire -- rattatattatattatat -- and again, rattatattatatattat -- somewhere through the woods. Mere days after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the sound hit my ears as obscenity, as disembodied death.
Of course, I have no idea who was shooting somewhere on the other side of the woods. For all I know, it was a church member, perhaps a member who generously saved the church from financial ruin one year. For all I know, it was the kindly woman who brings me banana bread. For all I know, it was the home-grown cop, who daily makes caring calls to the infirm elderly, or breaks up spouse beatings, or rescues starving animals. For all I know, the person behind the shocking rattatattatattatat is a dear friend.
I have no way of knowing who was behind this disembodied gunfire breaking up a crisp New England evening any more than those concert-goers in Las Vegas, who also heard gunfire from a distance, then saw human bodies fall beside them. But I do know the noise shocked my system. I wondered whether there ought to be a moratorium following such a deadly shooting. Couldn't individuals and gun clubs voluntarily take a few days off? Just a temporary break, let everybody catch their breath, reflect, honor the dead.
But, then I thought, no, not in this political climate. Heaven forbid such a temporary break be interpreted by political opponents as some kind of admission, such as, that guns kill people. Nope, better double down, dig in, admit nothing. In fact, this might be a cause to celebrate our "right" to carry firearms.
Last Sunday, the lectionary text was Matthew 21:23-32. The religious authorities interrupt Jesus' Bible study to question his authority. Jesus answers their question with a question of his own: was John's baptism of human origin or divine origin? The priests and the elders form a huddle to debate what their answer should be.
Jesus asks them their opinion, and they debate what the answer should be -- as opposed to simply answering him what is on their mind. The priests and the elders are more concerned with the consequences of their answer than the truth of their answer. They can't reach agreement so they reply they do not know -- not unlike one of those sticky Senate hearings when the respondent replies, "I don't recall." How convenient, that lapse of mental acuity. Better to be thought ignorant than to be found on the wrong side of the political football.
And such is the case with our discourse over firearms in this country, even in the wake of our deadliest shooting ever. Our leaders -- and our neighbors, and perhaps we ourselves -- are so concerned with the consequences of what we say, there is little room for an honest reporting of our gut response. Valuing the consequences of words over the truth of words freezes public discussion regarding any issue worth discussing in the first place. It also freezes our personal exploration of how we feel about an issue, and stymies our development and growth as human beings, and as Christians. Choosing consequences of speech over honesty of speech perpetuates political polarization, locking us into "sides" that we must defend, lest we be seen as a failure to our party or our nation.
The honest fact is, the Las Vegas shooting is an awful situation. I cannot imagine even the most ardent supporter of the second amendment was not sickened by it. Can we not agree as a nation that it was horrendous? Period? (Save the "Yeah, but....." until after the victims are buried.)
Then, can we we not mourn the deaths of the 58 people? Besides firearms, our ardent second amendment supporter surely has the right to bear grief.
And that supporter should also have the right to bear a nuanced opinion, the right to bear disgust, and the right to bear space in his or her psyche to allow a current, dramatic reality to impact his or her views without a sense of failure or being deemed unpatriotic.
That goes double if our ardent supporter holds public office or the public ear.
Perhaps along with a temporary moratorium on sport and hobby firing ranges following a mass shooting, we should also institute a temporary moratorium on making the consequences of a statement more important than its honesty.
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