After I moved from Tucson, Arizona, Senator Giffords and her legislative aides and staffers were gunned down by a lone shooter (2011). I knew them all. Gabby Giffords struggled on with major brain injury. We have watched as she has not only recovered best she can, but how she and her husband Mark Kelly have continued to lead the nation in the discussion about our imperfect gun laws and the promotion of a gun culture.
Now Kentucky. The folks in Benton, KY are just beginning the long road to recovery and five children are struggling to keep life and limb at Vanderbilt Hospital. Two suffered brain injury and one may lose his arm – a youth with special needs. And the confused kid who perpetrated the crime: what a mess his life is now. I can’t help but think they are all caught, we are all caught up, in a vortex.
But what is even more horrific, and longer lasting, will be the thousands of individuals in the community, region and even the nation who are traumatized by such an event. It does not leave the community; it becomes a part of its memory. It becomes a part of the national memory, all the devastating loss of innocent lives, over and over and over again. Meanwhile we dither in our moral fortitude.
We’ve arrived at a historical moment when all of us know someone affected by these brutal acts of violence, acts perpetrated by people with problems, with grudges, or tangled mental states that lead them to strike out. Most of the time they are victims too – abused, bullied, abandoned or feeling without any personal agency in their social or familial families. Somehow they find that gun or guns to carry out their plan. It’s just not hard to get a gun. Kids can kill kids.
Apparently, this is not enough to convince the National Rifle Association and all who benefit from the vast industry of gun sales, and who confuse the Bill of Rights with the basic moral imperative to do no evil, to do no harm. It is a fact that until recent history, promotion of widespread ownership of guns was uncommon.
Let’s also examine the other entrenched social and political conditions that can be drivers of violence: poverty, alienation, social repression, and so on. Kentucky has high poverty rates and over the top opioid addiction. We can talk all day about how our prayers go out to these youth but what are we really doing to help them, to provide a secure society for all kids to thrive? America needs a rigorous self-inventory. That includes all of us. If we espouse a religious affiliation might we not examine how we apply it in all aspects of our lives?
I recall Martin Luther King, Jr. when asked why he supported the end of United States participation in the Vietnam War. Why didn’t he stick to just civil rights? To paraphrase, he simply pointed out the he could not divide his moral code by the issue at hand. It is a code that demands the same rigor of understanding and right action in any area of our personal and civic lives.
Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) changes the brain unless it is arrested. Let’s work with the people of Benton, KY to help them heal, to provide everything they need, including our sincere prayers. But let us not stop there. We must stop easy access to guns, and implicit or explicit support for an industry that results in a gun culture, in the U.S. once and for all. LET’S NOT MOVE ON.