President Obama gave a deeply pastoral address to the Newtown, Conn., community, wracked by the shooting massacre of 20 children and six adults in an elementary school on Friday. In a Sunday evening address to an interfaith service, he solemnly read the names of each victim to the audible sobs in the audience.
But the president also gave voice to a growing national determination to end gun violence. “We cannot tolerate this anymore,” he said Sunday.
As he reminded the country, this is the fourth time he as president has presided over national mourning for victims of mass shooting, the fourth time he has “hugged survivors,” and the fourth time he has “consoled families of victims.”
It was clear that in the mind of the president, this is four times too many. Obama confirmed what many of us already know: we are failing as a nation to protect our children.
And to Obama, one American father, this was the final straw.
He raised the policy bar, not only by claiming that failing to protect our children is a national failure, but also by directly challenging the main argument of the pro-gun lobbies and their politicians.
The “freedom” argument.
Repeated mass shootings are not freedom. “Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?” Obama asked.
No, we are not.
I would add the sheer number and firepower of today’s guns are not weapons that fall under a rubric of the right to form militias, per the Second Amendment, but are weapons of mass social destruction. The Second Amendment is not a license to kill.
Polls taken in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting show a shift in American attitudes toward more gun control. It is becoming increasingly clear that Americans realize the unfettered flow of guns into our society is making us less free not more. These guns find their way far too easily into the hands of the mentally unstable and the school and mall-type massacres are increasingly the result. But these guns also circulate easily in cities like Chicago, and more carnage results. There are numerous deaths, including the deaths of children and young people, and they make horrifying statistics. Read this list of homicide victims, most of them from guns in Chicago, just from 2012. This must not be.
The moral and ethical condemnations of the gun lobbies are getting more pointed. In addition to the support for gun control legislation, there is a growing consensus that the National Rifle Association and its gun manufacturer supporters cannot be allowed to buy the votes they need to secure unrestricted access to their lethal armory, especially assault weapons.
Many are calling out the profound immorality of our lax gun laws and what that says about us as a nation.
Gary Wills, in an extraordinary piece in the New York Review of Books blog, calls guns “Our Moloch.” “Moloch,” a pagan deity, demanded the sacrifice of living children. Obeisance to the gun industry, according to Wills, demonstrates “our fealty, our bondage, to the great god Gun.”
I asked, after the Aurora, Colo., gun massacre, do Americans trust guns more than God?
Of course they do. Americans are the most heavily armed nation in the world, with 90 guns per every 100 people per a 2007 study. In that study, U.S. citizens owned 270 million of the world’s 875 million known firearms. Imagine what that number is now, four years later? Does it approach 100 guns for every 100 Americans?
Americans trust their guns, not God.
“How many more kids have to die, before you guys say, ‘we want less guns, not more?’” asked CNN’s Piers Morgan on his show Friday.
Here is a moral red line in the sand. No more deaths of children from gun massacres. Not even one is acceptable.
All we ask is that our politicians have a little courage to stand up to the gun lobbies and their funders. How can they justify any further cowardice on passing tough gun laws in the face of national models of courage like Dawn Hochsprung, the Sandy Hook Elementary School principal and Mary Sherlach, the school psychologist, who ran toward the sound of shooting?
“Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
Former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), the Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite is professor of theology at Chicago Theological Seminary and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress .
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* Pace: Comfort the grieving
* Stanley: In tragedy we grieve; in God, we hope
* Quinn: Where was God?
* Thistlethwaite:God weeps: 27 children, staff killed in Conn. school shooting