icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Down by the Riverside


     No songs today.
     No joyous recounting of trips to the river. 
     Only muffled sobs and the shock of loss.
     Another mass shooting. This time Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Nineteen children and two teachers dead.
     It could have been my grandson, Emmett, going to public school this fall. Or my grandnephews, Victor, Parker, and Elliott, or their mom, Catie, who works as a para-professional at their school. Or my sister, Sharon, or my nieces, Brenda and Michelle, all teachers. Or my grandniece, Emma, just turned 16, the same age as Tate Myre, one of the four students gunned down at Oxford High School last November.
     Or, it could have been one of the children or grandchildren of members of the NRA who oppose any restriction on access to guns. They love their families as much as I love mine. Based on what I see on social media, they hope the guns they carry will protect their loved ones if they are threatened by an intruder.
     But that's a fantasy. An illusion fed by movies and video games in which the brave hero saves the world by shooting all the bad guys.
     In real life, people are more likely to be killed by their own guns than protected by them, whether from accidental injury, homicide, or suicide. A 2015 study by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center reported that ordinary citizens are more likely to be injured after threatening attackers with guns than if they'd called the police or run away.*
     Nor do I want a well-meaning civilian shooting up a public place in response to a real or perceived threat. Leave that to law enforcement, who are trained and accountable.

     This madness of mass shootings must stop.
     In the 7th century BCE, the Israelite prophet Jeremiah stood at a site in the Hinnom Valley outside Jerusalem where human sacrifice was practiced. While some of the details are unclear, it appears that children were burned there as an offering to the Canaanite gods of Baal and Molech. Jeremiah condemned the site and prophesied that it would become a mass grave for inhabitants of Jerusalem during the coming invasion of the city. "Because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent," he said.**

       My neck prickles with horror.
      What would Jeremiah tell us, whose schoolrooms and supermarkets and churches have become places of sacrifice? Would he say that we are as much in thrall to the gun lobby as the ancient Israelites were to the pagan god Baal? Would he say that we, like worshippers of Molech, are making our children "pass through fire"?
     It sickens me that the curriculum in schools across the country must include active shooter drills. That teachers are told to bring belts to their classrooms to help construct barricades. That supply cabinets contain materials to quickly staunch the flow of blood.
     We sacrificed our children to the great god Gun.

     Understand, I have no argument with hunters. We walk through the same woods in the autumn, breathing the crisp air, rustling through fallen leaves. In winter, we look for deer tracks in the same snow. We love many of the same things.
     And I know that many responsible gun owners teach gun safety, and make sure their weapons are secure.
     But no one—apart from the military and law enforcement—should have legal access to assault rifles. We cannot know for sure whether every person who enters a school, supermarket, church, synagogue, university, concert venue, or dance club is not suffering from a mental illness. But we can try to make sure they are not armed with military-style weapons.

     Yesterday, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who represents the Sandy Hook community where 26 elementary school students and educators were killed in December 2012, pleaded with his colleagues for a compromise on reasonable gun control.
     Today I am writing my representative, Elissa Slotkin, to ask if the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bi-partisan group that championed her Lend-Lease Act to help Ukraine, could do something about this war in our streets. I will ask her for universal background checks, an age limit of 21 for the purchase of any gun, and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines and assault-style rifles for everyone except the military and law enforcement.
     Tomorrow I will write to those who represent me in the Senate, where gun control legislation favored by a majority of Americans has repeatedly been blocked by a filibuster of Republican legislators.
     It's hard not to feel hopeless. But I will keep trying.
     And I will join others at the Capitol Building in Lansing for "Woke Wednesdays" simply to stand and pray and write letters. "No talking, no demonstrating," the carpool organizer said. "Just standing against the violence."
     I will stand in grief and mute fury like the ancient Israelites in exile who hung up their harps in the willow trees rather than sing for their captors.
     There's a place on the Huron River in Island Lake Recreation Area where the remains of three huge willow trees stand by the water's edge. I will go there and weep. 

     When Ed and I were walking at Hudson Mills Metropark this morning, we heard the voices of children in the distance. "Maybe toddlers at the playground?" I said to Ed. Then we came upon a group of six schoolchildren walking with an adult chaperone who was carrying a clipboard while the kids were peering into the vegetation along the trail. It looked to be a scavenger hunt.
     "Hello, fellow hikers," one cheerful kid called out to Ed and me.
     "We have to find a potato," another kid confided.
     I could have told him that both skunk cabbage and cattails have fleshy, tuber-like roots. But the only way this kid would find a potato along the trail would be if the teacher who created this fun science activity had placed it there ahead of time.
     May we show the same creativity and foresight as this teacher to protect our children's lives.
     May all children walk in the woods, in their classrooms, in their neighborhoods, in our nation—wherever their feet take them—joyously and unafraid.
     It's up to us.

"On the willows there we hung up our harps." Psalm 137:2 (NRSV)
Playlist: "On the Willows," Stephen Schwartz, Godspell, 1973.

*"Will a Gun Keep Your Family Safe? Here's What the Evidence Says," https://www.thetrace.org/2020/04/gun-safety-research-coronavirus-gun-sales/ ** Jeremiah 19:4-14, 2 Kings 23:10

Post a comment