Unfortunately today my topic is not far from home. Like most Americans I am stunned at five school shootings in one week. The latest in Illinois touches me because I am originally from Chicago. While I attended Northeastern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University was a choice of a number of my colleagues. I have been to the University of Illinois. This is not some exotic setting for me, this is home.
I teach and I cannot imagine nearing the end of my lecture and then to have someone step out of the shadows and change peoples lives forever. I grieve for those students and their families. My heart also goes out to the young man who was so disturbed that he caused this pain. My heart especially goes out to his family at this time.
I read the message of the President of the Brady Foundation, Paul Helmke, former mayor of Fort Wayne. He stated:
Every day in America, 32 people are murdered with guns. That’s a daily Virginia Tech. This tragic figure is not due to mysterious forces beyond our control. People cause this problem and people can fix it.
Today, as we grieve with the victims and families of this latest mass shooting, I call on college and university presidents across America to join with us in demanding that the presidential candidates – as well as the U.S. Congress and President George W. Bush – support meaningful action to prevent gun violence. Much more needs to be done to help make our schools and communities safer.
Another newspaper asked how we could control school shootings in a nation that had 270 million guns. Are we supposed to feel comforted that these shooters at least had their constitutional right to bare arms protected? I am not anti-gun, I am anti “let’s flood the nation with cheap and easily accessible guns with minimal safeguards”.
In the last week we have witnessed guns used not for target practice or hunting, not to make collectors proud of their collection. Instead we witnessed:
A man shoot his wife in Notre Dame Elementary School in Portsmouth Ohio
A nursing student from Louisiana Technical College outside of Baton Rouge shoot two women and then herself
A sophomore shoot a senior at a Memphis Tennessee high school gymnasium.
A 14 year old fatally shoot a 15 year peer in a school in Oxnard California.
And now this shooting in Illinois. This is too much. I don’t believe that you can stop someone who is truly committed to killing themselves or others. If there is no ambivalence they will find a way. But when there is time and planning involved you would hope someone would notice changes in behavior. You would hope that it would not be easy for someone to arm themselves, especially when they have a history of mental illness. Last year 30,000 people in the U.S. were killed by handguns. When are we going to decide we can protect Americans right to own firearms and we can also protect Americans?
So until our politicians grow backbones and decide they can find a realistic middle ground we do what we can. Until so called pro-life politicians realize being pro-life means protecting all human life we do what we can. Today on campus students gathered in prayer for their peers in Illinois. Faculty started classes with a minute of prayer, meetings started on a quiet, sober thought and prayers. You pray for the life time of pain a moment has caused. You pray for that school to someday find its way back to normal. You pray a prayer of thanksgiving that your students and your sons and daughters are safe, for now.
You pray, amen.