News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  8 November •  No. 143

Special Issue
Facing the facts, imagining a different future

Processional.Motete: Versa est in luctum,” 17th century Spanish Renaissance composer Tomás Victoria, a setting of Job 30:31; 7:16. English translation: “My harp is turned to mourning and my organ into the voice of those that weep. Spare me, O Lord, for my days are nothing.” (Thanks Brooks.)

Above: View in Garner State Park in the Texas Hill Country, an area just northwest of Sutherland Springs. Photo by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Invocation. "O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you 'Violence!' and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous—therefore judgment comes forth perverted.” —Habakkuk 1:2-4

These are the victims of the shooting at First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas: Read their names, see their faces (2:14 video).

Call to worship. “I go about in sunless gloom; I stand up in the assembly and cry for help. My lyre is turned to mourning, and my pipe to the voice of those who weep.” —Job 30:28, 31

The poem about gun violence every American needs to hear.” —IN-Qu, Occupy Democrats (3:14 video. Thanks Virginia.)

Hymn of praise. “Well I’m pressing on / Yes, I’m pressing on / Well I’m pressing on / To the higher calling of my Lord.” —Regina McCrary & Chicago Mass Choir, “Pressing On

¶ “The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.”Max Fisher & Josh Keller, New York Times

¶ “People all over the world become furious and try to harm others, but only in the United States do we suffer such mass shootings so regularly; only in the U.S. do we lose one person every 15 minutes to gun violence.” —Nicholas Kristoff, “How to Reduce Shootings,” New York Times

Confession. “‘In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,’ Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 young students at an elementary school in Connecticut. ‘Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.’” Max Fisher & Josh Keller, New York Times

Intercession. “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” —Habakkuk 1:2

Hymn of supplication.Kumbaya,” Choeur Gospel du Conservatoire, France (with dance).

¶ “Americans make up about 4.4% the global population but own 42% of the world’s guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31% of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American. . . .

        • “American crime is more lethal. A New Yorker is just as likely to be robbed as a Londoner, for instance, but the New Yorker is 54 times more likely to be killed in the process. . . .

        • “Gun control legislation tends to reduce gun murders, according to a recent analysis of 130 studies from 10 countries.

        • “The US is one of only three countries” where “people have an inherent right to own guns. . . .” Max Fisher & Josh Keller, New York Times

The overlooked gun factor: virulent masculinity.

        • George Ciccariello-Maher, political science professor at Drexel University, was recently banned from campus after questioning why mass shootings in the US are almost always carried out by white men. ­—read a brief interview with him by “Democracy Now!” program host Amy Goodman

        • “The persistent crime that connects mass shooters and terror suspects: Domestic violence.” Mark Berman, Washington Post

        • “What Mass Shooters Have In Common: Domestic Violence Records.” Emily O’Hara, NBC News

        • The traits that are strongly linked with violence are “being young and male and having a history of childhood abuse and exposure to violence.” Jeffrey Swanson, Duke University psychiatry professor, quoted in Lindsey Tanner/AP, Washington Post

Prophesy. “Your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden God’s face from you so that God does not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue mutters wickedness.” —Isaiah 59:2-3

Words of assurance. “You may be down and feel like God / Has somehow forgotten / That you are faced with circumstances / You can't get through / But now it seems that there's no way out / And you're going under / God's proven time and time again / He'll take care of you.” —McKenzie George, “He’ll Do It Again

This makes my head spin.

        • “Gun homicides . . . in England are about as common as deaths from agricultural machinery accidents in the United States.

        • “. . . in Canada are about as common as deaths from alcohol poisoning in the US.

        • “. . . in Norway are about as common as deaths from accidental stranglings and hangings in the US.

        • “. . . in Germany are about as common as deaths from thrown or falling objects in the US.

        • “. . . in New Zealand are about as common as deaths from falling from a ladder in the US.

        • “. . . in the Netherlands are about as common as deaths from accidental gas poisoning in the US.

        • “. . . in Iceland are about as common as deaths from electrocution in the US.

        • “. . . in Spain are about as common as deaths from excessive natural heat in the US.

        • “. . . in Poland are about as common as deaths from bicycle riders being hit by cars in the US.

        • “. . . in Japan are about as common as deaths from being struck by lightning in the US.

        • “. . . in Scotland are about as common as deaths from cataclysmic storms in the US.” —for more see Kevin Quealy & Margot Sanger-Katz, New York Times

Hymn of intercession.Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” Garrison Keillor, Arlo Guthrie, The DiGiallonardo Sisters, Heather Masse and The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band.

Both President Trump and Texas Governor Greg Abbott blame the Sutherland Springs shooting on mental illness. Yet “Most people with mental illness are not violent” and only 3-5% of violent acts “can be attributed to individuals living with a series mental illness,” according to the US Department of Health and Human Services website. —see Lindsey Tanner/AP, Washington Post

By the numbers. There are more than 51,000 licensed gun shops (and 30,000 supermarkets) in the US.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) began in 1871 by Union civil war veterans, after witnessing their troop’s inept shooting accuracy during the war. Its motto was “Firearms Safety Education, Marksmanship Training, Shooting for Recreation.”
        In 1933 and 1938 the NRA helped President Franklin D. Roosevelt craft gun control legislation. In Congressional testimony in 1938, NRA President Karl T. Frederick said “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” —for more see Steven Rosenfeld, Salon

¶ “How the NRA Enables Domestic Terrorism,” Jim Wallis,

Here are some myths that are trotted out regularly by the gun lobby, and that will likely be trotted out again today: “Mass Shooting in Texas and False Arguments Against Gun Control,” Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker.

¶ “Almost two-thirds of the people in the US live in homes without guns, and there is no evidence that the inhabitants of these homes are at greater risk of being robbed, injured or killed by criminals compared with citizens in homes with guns. Instead, the evidence is overwhelming that a gun in the home increases the likelihood not only that a household member will be shot accidentally, but also that someone in the home will die in a suicide or homicide.” —David Hemenway, “Does owning a gun make you safer?” LATimes

Preach it. “Because violence is born of fantasy, visions of peace are the only antidote.” —see Alan Bean, “Violence is born of fantasy; so is the cure

What to do? In terms of public policy goals, here’s the best suggestion I’ve seen.
         “Frankly, liberal opposition to guns has often been ineffective, and sometimes counterproductive. . . . The left sometimes focuses on ‘gun control,’ which scares off gun owners and leads to more gun sales. A better framing is ‘gun safety’ or ‘reducing gun violence,’ and using auto safety as a model—constant efforts to make the products safer and to limit access by people who are most likely to misuse them.” —Nicholas Kristoff, “How to Reduce Shootings,” New York Times

Commonsense gun regulation. “Do we go to the Ford Motor Company and stay stop making automobiles because people get drunk and kill people in cars?”
         “No, but we do enact stricter blood alcohol limits, raise the drinking age, ramp us enforcement penalties, charge bartenders who serve drunks, and launch huge public awareness campaigns to stigmatize the dangerous behavior in question. We do all those things because it might just help bring drunk driving rates down by, oh, I don’t know, two-thirds in a few decades. And in all that time, Americans didn’t lose the right to buy cars.” —Jon Stewart, Daily Show

Strong bipartisan consensus on these gun-related matters. A 2016 poll found US citizens largely supportive of these forms of gun control: preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns (89%); background checks for all (including private and gun show sales (84%); barring gun purchases by those on no-fly watch lists (83%); creating federal database to track gun sales (71%); banning assault weapons (68%); banning high-capacity magazines (65%). Pew Research Center

Even in the military, which rigorously trains troops to use firearms, there are serious gun restrictions. On military bases and naval ships, firearms are kept under lock-and-key except for specified training exercises—though in November 2016 the Department of Defense issued new guidelines allowing open and concealed weapons by military personnel, a policy change vigorously opposed by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. —see Brendan McGarry,

Can’t makes this sh*t up. One of our nation’s growing vacation trends is machine gun shooting range tourism. “DeSoto County, Florida, Honolulu, and Las Vegas practice aggressive marketing to lure gun-avid tourism. Said one new business owners in South Carolina, “The more people that get to shoot machine guns, the better. Combined with large-scale machine gun shoots and silencer shoots, we hope that some things about who is allowed to own these things and who isn’t changes.” —for more see Hannah Gardner, USAToday

It’s been a while since my grammar schooling; but the rhetoric of the Second Amendment to the Constitution—“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”—is not that complicated.

        The second part, concerning the “right to bear arms,” is a dependent clause controlled by the independent clause, on the need to maintain a well-regulated militia. Which is to say, the second part is governed by the first for its significance and meaning. The US no longer has militias, but we do have a national guard, whose members have a right to be armed.

        P.S. It wasn’t until 2008, in the Supreme Court’s District of Columbia v. Heller case, that that this Amendment was judged to protect the constitutional right for every individual, regardless of military service, to own firearms. —for a more thorough presentation on this topic, read the commentary of a real grammarian, Mark Moe, IdeaLog

Call to the table. “. . . we feel round rage and desolation the finally enfolding tenderness.” —Rainer Maria Rilke

Best one-liner. When you hear Republican politicians offering thoughts and prayers today [for the mass shooting in Las Vegas], remember they voted to sell guns to the mentally ill this year. —for more see Jessica Taylor, “House Votes To Overturn Obama Rule Restricting Gun Sales To The Severely Mentally Ill,” NPR

Pastoral admonishment. “It is incomprehensible to us, as Australians, that a country so proud and great can allow itself to be savaged again and again by its own citizens. We cannot understand how the long years of senseless murder, the Sandy Hooks and Orlandos and Columbines, have not proved to Americans that the gun is not a precious symbol of freedom, but a deadly cancer on their society.

        “We point to our own success with gun control in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre, that Australia has not seen a mass shooting since. We have not bought our security at the price of liberty; we have instead consented to a social contract that states lives are precious, and not to be casually ended by lone madmen.” —editorial, Sydney Morning Herald, which goes on to recommend eight specific, commonsensical policy recommendations (Thanks Ivan.)

The state of our disunion. Watch Fox News host Ainsley Earhardt explain why being shot in church is the best place.

More disunion. Ever since 1996 (and quietly renewed in 2015, after the Charleston massacre), Congress has barred the Center for Disease Control from collecting and analyzing gun violence data. —read or listen to (4:52 audio) this PRI story

Altar call. “Well, they guild their houses in preparation for the King / And they line the sidewalks / With every sort of shiny thing / They will be surprised / When they hear him say / Take me to the alley / Take me to the afflicted ones / Take me to the lonely ones / That somehow lost their way.” —Gregory Porter, “Take Me To the Alley(Thanks Don.)

Benediction. Listen to Stephen Colbert’s brief commentary (3:22 video) on “how gun violence makes us feel powerless—but we’re not.”

Recessional.Not Again,” Gregg Robins, a song to raise awareness about the proliferation of gun violence.

Lectionary for this Sunday. “Teach your children well. For they are living messages to a lineage you will not see; to a future beyond your horizon.” —continue reading “Teach your children well,” a litany inspired by Psalm 78

Lectionary for Sunday next. “Make vows to the Lord your God . . . who cuts off the spirit of princes, who inspires fear in the kings of the earth.” —Psalm 76:11-12

Just for fun. Saturday Night Live gun satire (1:53 video).

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Is an attack on one an attack on all? The brutal consequences of our nation’s gun fetish,” a short essay

• In preparation for Veterans’ Day (11 November), see “Patriotic holidays in the US: The nation's liturgical calendar celebrating our militarized history.”

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