Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Thoughts and Prayers

It's taken a bit for these thoughts to come together, because my anger at each of these events and our continual inaction is ever increasing.  This one hits a little closer to home.  Jamie has both siblings and students that attend Texas A&M Commerce.  And while thankfully, none of them were directly impacted by the events of the weekend, the fear, the dread, the worry and shock, and the impact on the community remain the same.

For those who have not heard, there was another mass shooting over the weekend, this time at an unofficial homecoming party for Texas A&M Commerce held on Saturday night in Greenville.  At some point just after midnight, a man entered the rear of the venue filled with around 750 people and opened fire, killing two men and shooting eight others.  Four other people were injured by glass or other debris in the shooting.  Though the authorities were already at the scene, they were not able to lay eyes on the shooter at the time.

Shots were later fired at a vigil for one of the deceased on Sunday night.  Thankfully no one was injured at the vigil, though it was clear the shooter was not just shooting into the air - they were aiming at the crowd.  Bullet holes were made in a news van at the scene.

On Monday, Hunt County officials arrested a suspect in connection with the event, a 23 year old father of three.  The suspect has continued to proclaim his innocence, stating that he was at the event, dressed as a security guard, but was in the parking lot at the time of the shooting.  He claims to have witnesses that would place outside the venue at the time.

In many ways, the event has been an object lesson in how not to handle a mass shooting.

Hunt County officials have labeled the witnesses "uncooperative," with Hunt County Sheriff Randy Meeks  saying it "appalled" him that with that many people there no one was able to give a good description of the shooter.  As if a victim's first responsibility is to be able to identify the perpetrator.  As if, at a college dance, it's not going to be dark, crowded, disorienting.  As if a natural human response to hearing gunshots is not to run in the opposite direction.

There has also been a refusal to label a mass shooting, as officials feel it doesn't meet the exact definition.  The United StatesCongressional Research Service acknowledges that there is not a broadly accepted definition and defines a "public mass shooting" as an event where someone selects four or more people and kills them in an indiscriminate manner, echoing the FBI’s definition of the term "mass murder," but adding the indiscriminate factor.  Generally, a mass shooting does not have to meet mass murder, instead requiring four or more people shot, not necessarily killed.  It's really splitting hairs isn't it, when we have to debate over whether enough people were killed versus shot to determine exactly how we should feel about this and respond.  It was a mass shooting.  A gunman walked into a building with 750 people in it and opened fire, trying to kill or injure as many as they could.  It seems it also may have been a mass shooting of convenience, as officials believe the gunmen came there with a specific target in mind and then opened fire onto the broader crowd.

Texas A&M Commerce for its part has done everything to distance itself from the event to keep it from being a school shooting.  Every news item had to include a mention that this event was not school related, it was not school sanctioned, that it was in no way connected to the school.  Now, I understand liability, but this was a homecoming celebration for your school, thrown by The Goodfellas, a known organization on campus, and advertised on campus.  It's not officially school related, but it's definitely connected.  The victims were students, alumni, and friends.  Texas A&M Commerce tried to maintain this stance even to the point of continuing school on Monday, despite requests.  Pointing to concerns of safety, particularly with the shooting at the vigil as well, as well as the need for time to heal, students through the student body government petitioned for classes to be cancelled.  Texas A&M Commerce acquiesced and cancelled classes for Tuesday, October 29, and Wednesday, October 30.

Everyone is so determined to just move past this.  To put it immediately in the rear view mirror and not have to deal with it and it's implications.  We so don't want to deal with the questions this event raises, we don't want to do the hard thing, we don't want to sacrifice for the community.  We're so determined for this to have no impact on guns, gun policy, to have very little impact on the general communities lives that we're even skipping the traditional thoughts and prayers component.

Are we that desensitized to this kind of event?  Oh look, it's just another one.

Look, I don't want to belittle thoughts and prayers.  They are powerful.  Prayer can move mountains, truly.  I can point to the times of my life where I have been prayed through.  Where I only survived because of the prayers of others.

But we belittle the very purpose and power of prayer when we make it the very least we can do and leave it there.

There is a lot we should be talking about.

There are questions of safety in and around Commerce.  Just with Jamie's family, this is the second shooting in less than a year that has hit a little too close to home and a little too close to the campus.

There are questions of race.  There are questions as to whether the shooting has a racial component. The party was largely minority.  The two deceased are African American.  The victims are largely minority.  The alleged suspect is a minority.  And this is in an area where the relations between minorities and the police are already strained.  It was just two years ago that the Miss Black Texas 2016 was inappropriately confronted by the police in front of the Commerce Wal-mart.

And there are also questions regarding gun control that have to be answered.  If the gun was legally obtained, as most of the guns used in mass shootings have been, then we have questions regarding what needs to be done to prevent these kinds of events in the future.  It's gun control, it's economics, it's mental health support - it is all of it.

If we cannot address these, and all of these at once, we have no business calling ourselves the greatest country in the world.  If we cannot do even the smallest things, like requiring universal background checks, closing gun show and private sale loopholes, etc. then we have given up all pretense of caring.

We can do it.  We can look at mental health care.  We can look at bullying.  We can look at the family structure.  We can look at socio-economic status and mobility.  AND we should can look at sensible gun control.  We're a big country and pretty good at multi-tasking.  We're more than capable of looking at it all.  If we just had the will power to do so.

To close, a friendly reminder of why it matters.  Why it is so vital we do something.
  • On an average day, 96 Americans are killed with guns.
  • On average, there are nearly 13,000 gun homicides a year in the United States.
  • For every one person killed with guns, two more are injured.
  • 62% of firearm deaths in the United States are suicides.
  • Seven children and teens are killed with guns in the United States on an average day.
  • In an average month, 50 women are shot to death by an intimate partner in the United States.
  • America's gun homicide rate is more than 25 times the average of other high-income countries.
  • The United States accounts for 46% of the population, but 82% of the gun deaths.
  • Background checks have blocked over 3 million gun sales to prohibited people.
  • Black men are 13 times more likely than white men to be shot and killed with guns.
  • The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of the woman being killed by five times.

The point of this all, is that it goes far beyond mass shootings.  If we could implement gun control and have a noticeable impact on suicide it would be worth it.  If it had a noticeable impact on domestic disputes, on homicides, on accidental deaths, it would be worth it.

Until that day, here are my thoughts and prayers.

Dear Lord,

I pray that you are with the families and community that are grieving in the Commerce area today.  I pray your peace and comfort is on them and that somehow this will be redeemed for good in their lives.  I pray justice is done.  I pray the shooter is captured and that they are brought to justice.

I pray our society finds the strength to do something about this.  To act, to rise up and say no more.  I find we have the strength to sacrifice to slow these senseless deaths.  I pray we never get desensitized to it.  I pray we grieve every single time.

Break our addiction to guns.  Break us to the point where we stop seeing them as a solution to the problem.  Break our reliance on them for strength and power.

Lord move us.  Strengthen our resolve.  Guide us.  And protect us from ourselves.

In Jesus Name.

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