At the time of writing this blog, there have been 39 mass shootings in the US in 2023. Let that sink in. The year has barely begun and already there have been 39 incidents of shooting where four or more people have been killed or wounded.* The violence has not been reserved to any one place. Shopping malls, community dance halls, youth centers, restaurants, churches, workplaces – there is no place immune to the threat of gun violence. Those who commit the crimes have ceased to fit stereotypes. Two in California were apparently committed by senior citizens. We are witnessing a surge of violence. We experience mass shooting syndrome.
The shootings have become so common that there is a predictable pattern of response. The media relays the tragedy and there is a rush of reports. We hear and see the shock of survivors. There will be stories of heroic rescues. Neighbours of the assailants will be interviewed on camera. Questions of “Who? What? and Why?” will be explored – usually with few answers. There will be an outpouring of justified grief. “Thought and prayers” will be directed to those who suffered loss. There will be candlelight vigils. Then voices will be raised for solutions. There will be cries of “Enough!” and promises of action. But if the past pattern continues, all of this will quiet down. Little will change. There will be another shooting and the affliction continues.
It continues despite everyone wanting it to stop. It continues regardless of remedial interventions. It continues beneath the awareness of society at large. This is a heartache second only to the loss of life. Mass shootings have become ordinary. I was shocked to find out that by Jan 24th, there had been 39 mass shootings: more than one a day in 2023. We hear only of the more sensational murders, the horrible incidents of larger numbers. Lesser numbers don’t even make headlines anymore. We continue as if all of this is expected, inevitable – normal. Have we become callused to the violence and loss of life?
The human heart has a capacity to absorb sin. This is true, collectively and personally. What was once unthinkable, over time and repetition can become acceptable. Domestic abuse, addictions, affairs, larceny, a secret life – all of these are the product of tolerating what was once thought to be unacceptable. Our hearts become numb to the offences, and we live the type of life we previously thought impossible. We find ourselves in a “normal” we didn’t predict and can’t escape on our own.
I am grieved by what I see in the headlines. But the core issues require answers beyond just political or legislative powers. While the pain is evidenced by one nation’s struggles, no country is immune. Every society is made up of individuals. So, what we are one by one, we are all together. We are witnessing a human problem. We have the capacity for anger and violence. Worse, we have the capacity to become immune to those forces. Despair takes residence in the absence of answers or the will to enact them. A spirit of hopelessness becomes tolerance. The unacceptable becomes acceptable, and with numbed hearts we go on. It doesn’t have to be this way.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t promise the eradication of violence on earth. But Jesus changes us. He grants new life within us. With new hearts we can stand compassionately with those in pain. Hearts sensitive to the Spirit do not grant living space to sin. They reject a broken normal and speak for justice. They work for peace. The heart Jesus shapes is not numb, but alive with righteousness and filled with faith. So we pray, “Lord God renew our hearts, our homes, our land.”
*reported by Gun Violence Archive (gunviolencearchive.org)