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The Peace that Passeth All Understanding


When he was born, his mama said,

“The moon turned black, and the clock stopped dead.

Lord, have mercy,” she said, “what have I done?

Is my flesh and blood the Devil’s son?”

The Stone Coyotes: “Powder Keg,” by Barbara Keith

In director Lynne Ramsay’s (2011) We Need to Talk About Kevin, a film about a mother’s grief and shame after her son’s act of mass violence, her son gives us the motivation for what he will eventually perpetrate in the locked-down gym of a high-school pep rally: “It’s like this: You wake up, and you watch T.V. You get in your car and you listen to the radio. You go to your little job, or your little school. You’re not going to hear about that on the six o’clock news. Why? Because nothing is really happening. You go home and you watch TV. And maybe, on Friday, the fun night, you go out and watch a movie. It’s gotten so bad that the people on TV, inside the TV, they’re watching TV. What are all the people watching? People like me. What are all you doing right now, but watching me. You don’t think they would’ve changed the channel by now if all I do is get an A in geometry?” Yes, Lynne Ramsay was also the director of the 2017 You Were Never Really Here, and yes, she does have the pulse on a nasty vein of America’s bloodiness. But no, Kevin is not about firearms; this cold killer is a precision archer.

I initially wrote this essay for the website of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science in the wake of the tragedy at Newtown, after the horrific slaughter of innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. It just doesn’t stop. The national conversation seems to flare up the most with school shootings, from Columbine, Colorado in 1999 to Parkland, Florida in February of 2018. When student survivors of the latter began a campaign of social activism, it appeared, for a few news cycles, like

things might be different this time. I’m not sanguine. We live in one of the most violent societies in the world, and Americans own 46% of the 857 million civilian-owned firearms in the world, despite making up only 4% of the world’s population. We own more guns than there are citizens, an estimated 120 guns for every 100 residents. The second highest is war-torn Yemen, with 53 per 100.

My wife and I recently visited her best friend, now a surgical resident at the University Medical Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. The UMC treated 104 of the 851 injured and 58 killed by a shooter firing 1,100 rounds of ammunition, in about 10 minutes, from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino, 450 meters into a music festival crowd of about 22,000. This was the deadliest shooting which ever occurred in the US, over the 49 killed in the Orlando Nightclub shooting of 2016. Please let us not call this a “record” shooting as records are made to be broken. We are so inured to such events that one wonders when they will cease to even be news. Except to the grieving families of the innocent victims, the captive audience to a frighteningly real-life event. The Las Vegas murderer had over 20 firearms, including 14 AR-15s, equipped with “bump stocks” allowing 100-round magazines to be fired at the same rate as fully automatic weapons. Even gun enthusiasts, steeped in regional gun cultures, warn that such firearms have no purpose other than to kill human beings at devastating effect. The wounds produced by the force of even .223 caliber bullets, not much larger than your grandfather’s .22, are devastating, gaping, and bone-shattering. They are also incredibly accurate, as I learned when I fired one, repeatedly hitting a small metal disk a hundred yards into the wooded area around a friends cabin, on a “guys weekend.” There is no good reason why such weapons should be owned by civilians. And I don’t want to hear the argument about their hypothetical need in some future armed insurrection; almost no one thinks fully automatic weapons should be legal. Let’s not start talking about Abrams tanks, long-distance artillery, or nuclear weapons. Or, for that matter, personnel