Photo above: The chilling picture released as part of the final police report into the Sandy Hook massacre
Where I live in South Florida we don’t see snow. I had to go to the local museum to see snowflakes. But these were snowflakes of a special kind. They are on tour. Since the horror of the Sandy Hook mass killing an outpouring of beauty has come in the form of an avalanche of snowflakes. The snowflakes resulted from a request by the Connecticut Parent Teacher Association in a press release requesting handmade snowflakes in memory of the more than two dozen shot and killed –twenty of them first grade children- a little over a year ago.
The “Snowflakes for Sandy Hook” were requested to create a “winter wonderland” at the new school the kids moved into. People from every state and over 50 nations shared in the effort in hopes of offering a bit of comfort and peace to those in the school traumatized by the appalling violence they experienced at the hands of a disturbed man with a gun.
Tragically, during the year since the Sandy Hook killings, about 200 children have been shot to death. Most of them were killed by guns in their own homes. Over 70 these children were shot by another child or shot him or herself. In these cases only four adults were held criminally liable. The average age of these small victims was six years old. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the past decade over 200 children under 12 are killed each year from gun violence. There is some evidence that these numbers are under reported. Drawing on pediatric records, two Boston surgeons have concluded that the numbers are much higher, about 500 deaths of children and teens per year, and an additional 7, 500 hospitalizations from gunshot wounds.
In contrast to the “Snowflakes for Sandy Hook, ” not much beautiful has come from American lawmakers subsequent to the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Instead of tightening gun control laws, law-makers have further loosened them. The New York Times noted that although just over 100 pieces of gun-related legislation have become law, two-thirds of those have actually done away with restrictions. People like Erich Pratt, director of communications for Gun Owners of America, deny that gun control laws will help make society safer.To the contrary, he insists, “Congress can’t deny access to instruments that help people protect kids.”
I remain totally unconvinced by the claims of Pratt and others like him, that guns do more to protect than to endanger the innocent, particularly children. Still if legal restrictions on guns cannot be put in place, the very least that can be done is to get serious about responsible ownership. That word seems to be used very loosely when it comes to the possession of guns. What constitutes “responsible” gun ownership? I think that is an appropriate question to be asked by those of us who have been called by Christ to be “peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9).
Surely, the word doesn’t apply to those who leave their guns loaded and fail to securely lock their weapons. Those who argue that “responsible” people should have easy access to guns surely do not include in that category gun owners who give easy access to their weapons to those who don’t own the guns. The many children who accidentally killed themselves or were killed by another young child did not own those guns. They found them in a drawer or in a closet.Suicides committed by adolescents are most often done with guns that were not owned by the victim. The weapon used in the Sandy Hook massacre was not owned by the mentally disturbed Adam Lanza but by his mother.
To claim, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people, ” is total nonsense to everyone but gun rights extremists. People with guns are the most effective killers, even when the killing is accidentally done, even when the killing is done by a child innocently fumbling around with a loaded weapon. And people whose guns kill or seriously injure others because the guns were accessible to people who didn’t own them –children or otherwise- are gun owners who are grossly negligent.
Such negligence should not be legal. Why have laws not been enacted that require trigger locks, gun safes and liability insurance for all gun owners?Why have laws not been put in place that require universal background checks for buyers and close the loopholes on private-sale and gun-shows? Why are more gun owners not put behind bars when their weapons cause death and injury because the guns were all too readily available to the wrong hands? Allowing someone access to a gun that is subsequently used in committing violence facilitates and abets that violence and, I believe, should be treated as a crime.
Some clear-sighted gun owners who are not deluded by the gun lobby have called for more seriousness about responsible ownership. Gun shop owner Mike Weisser wrote, “Gun owners should marginalize the members of our shooting fraternity who don’t know how to behave, don’t lock up their guns, don’t exercise diligence in selling or giving a gun to someone else. I don’t care what anyone says, there are effective laws that can protect our gun rights while, at the same time, penalize gun owners who commit irresponsible acts.”
But gun irresponsibility is found in high places, even in the household of a member of Congress. A couple months ago U.S. Representative Renee Ellmers of South Carolina-endorsed by the National Rifle Association- had an AR-15 rifle stolen from her family’s home.The weapon had been left out in the open, leaning against a gun locker in an unlocked garage. The gun was not hers but that of a member of her family. Still, even if it is used in an accidental killing or a murder, there will be no criminal charge brought against the irresponsible gun owner.
The current level of “freedom” allowed for gun owners in many states gives far too much latitude for irresponsibility. It is inexcusable for lawmakers –who won’t enact common sense gun control laws- to also fail to institute laws that hold gun owners to a higher level of responsibility and to enforce those laws. Too many neglect “the things that make for peace” (Luke 19:42). As followers of Jesus we should not be among them. We need to diligently work for a safer world in as many ways as we can and urge lawmakers to do the same.