Yesterday’s events at Parkland, Florida, have saddened us all. There is always something peculiarly shocking about the loss of young lives, and as we pray for the dead and injured, our hearts go out to the bereaved and shocked parents. Inevitably, there will be calls for better gun control in the U.S.; and equally inevitably, there will be opposition from the N.R.A. and from U.S. citizens who believe that any change in the law would be a violation of their rights.
As an Englishwoman, I have to admit that I simply do not understand how any nation can justify the kind of gun policy we see in the States, nor the fundamentally unhistorical basis of its present formulation. The armed militias of the eighteenth century did not have access to semi-automatic weapons. The kind of mass shooting that occurred yesterday could not have taken place in the way it did had the perpetrator used an eighteenth century gun, with its slow loading and slow firing mechanisms. That, however, is a technicality. The underlying problem for me, as for so many others, is what causes anyone to take up a gun and shoot others because of some sort of private grievance (I am assuming that there is no history of mental illness involved); and why anyone should advocate that more guns are needed for protection, rather than gun controls, including more thorough background checks. I do not know; I do not understand; and I am unimpressed by the simplistic answers that are flooding over Social Media.
One aspect of Lent is being honest about ourselves and what we do. This morning I am sure there are many in the U.S.A. who are thinking about their country’s gun policy. There are also many in Britain doing the same. After Dunblane, we made the possession of small firearms illegal, and we have not had to endure another such horrific shooting since. Is it enough just to be grateful that the government of the day acted swiftly? I think not. We learned from that experience, and I think we have a duty to say plainly that others could, too. I don’t believe in interfering in the internal affairs of another country, but when human lives are at stake, don’t we have a duty to speak up? Today’s first Mass reading, Deuteronomy 30. 1–15, confronts us with a choice between life and death, between following God’s ways and allowing our hearts to stray after idols. I hope my U.S. friends will not misunderstand when I say that idolising one element of the Constitution, and one with potentially such deadly consequences, can hardly be consistent with godliness. Please, America, cherish your children; don’t make it so easy for them to be killed.