You don't know, either.
When and where in this country will we change, that people no longer use guns to kill others, in anger, in hatred, in profit, so profligate?
When will we change our minds, when will we change our actions, and stop not only the terrible mass slaughters by which our country is known the world over, but the daily killings so common they barely make Page 3 in your newspaper?
I don't know. You don't, either.
A kid unloosed from reality, and heavily armed with gifts he was given, slaughtered little children and their teachers at a school in Connecticut. Little children, their teachers' arms trying to shield the rain of bullets. We ached and wrung our hands and pointed fingers and called names, and bought more guns.
A man, who evades whatever help might have come to him, finds his solution by shooting into a darkened theater in Colorado, those about to die probably thinking how real this promotion for a new action movie seems to be.
How awful! we say. What a weirdo! we say. Concealed handgun woulda taken that dude down! we say. End of story!
A young man, mad at the world, goes to a university and shoots and kills innocent stand-ins for those he decides have made him miserable. Which university? Take your pick, unfortunately: You have so many slaughterhouses to choose from.
Now a young man, too young really to be so angry about anything, had seemed to pray with a Bible group before killing nine of its members, including the pastor, Clementa Pinckney, at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
If someone in that church had packed a gun, I heard immediately in the aftermath, lives would have been saved. If teachers had been carrying, they could have rained their own bullets on the killer and and slowed or stopped this bloodshed.
Guns in the church, where people try to practice peace. Guns in the classroom, where children spend much of their childhood learning to try and get along.
More guns, against guns. That cannot possibly be the solution. I know it. You know it.
We are so, so far into the insanity of gun deaths that they have now taken on genres, different except for their common intractable solution: We won't get rid of our guns.
Killing a classroom of children hasn't been enough to move us, except to rail at questionable parenting and mental health services. Killing university of students makes us tsk! tsk! and that's about it. Almost killing a congresswoman at an informal meet-and-greet in front of an Arizona grocery store wasn't enough.
Nine church members dead becomes about racial hatred and the still simmering prejudices and fears we hold. It is still not enough.
Each different, each the same: Get more guns.
I don't know what to do. You don't either. People kill more people with guns in the United States, by far, than the rest of the developed world. We accept guns as a constitutional right, almost an expectation. We act as if ultimately we'll make peace through a continental standoff, each of us holding a gun on the other, until the shootings ends.
I do no more than write this and exorcise my confusion. I do not write my Congressional representative. I do not rail publicly against the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby. The debate is so convoluted and bitter and well-financed and entrenched that reform feels like folly.
I'm not advancing the debate here, late as I am anyway to comment, with nothing new or insightful to say.
I do no more than try very hard to treat others as I would like to be treated.
It is not enough. I know. You know.
We have witnessed the solution. In the most grisly and heart-wrenching fashion imaginable, we have seen it: It is love.
The members of Emanuel A.M.E. church accepted their killer into prayer with them, invited him into their holy place. Their grieving survivors immediately forgave the killer.
Churches over the weekend said they would not lock their doors, would not turn anyone away, would not do what anybody would reasonably expect them to do. They would welcome all with love.
The only name I have invoked here is Rev. Pinckney, pastor of the A.M.E. church and a state Senator in South Carolina. By all accounts Pinckney embodied love.
He spoke to a group visiting his church two years ago, telling them the history of his church and the story of Denmark Vesey, a leader of the church who plotted to lead a slave rebellion 193 years ago and was executed for it. Pinckney said:
Could we not argue that America is about freedom — whether we live it out or not? But it's really about freedom, equality and the pursuit of happiness. And that is what church is all about: Freedom to worship and freedom from sin, freedom to be full of what God intends us to be, and to have equality in the sight of God.Ultimately, love will win out. At great cost, we have seen, and more devastating cost to come, no doubt. But love, corny and simplistic as it sounds, is the answer.
And sometimes you got to make noise to do that. Sometimes you may even have to die like Denmark Vesey to do that. Sometimes you have to march, struggle and be unpopular to do that.
Boy Scouts — all about trying to get along — learn to shake with their left hands. The tradition of the standard handshake is that two people, upon greeting, have emptied their weapon hands: I will not harm you. The left-hand shake supposedly comes to Scouting from the Ashanti people of Ghana; warriors hold their shields in their left hand. To present the left hand in greeting means: I trust you not to harm me.
The answer is in your hand, empty and held in greeting. I know it. You do too.