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A commentary on the U.S. Senate vote against gun safety bills
by Bishop Felton May*
Tragedy comes in threes, some say. If that is so, then we’ve had our share on U.S. soil over the past two weeks. What’s left are vexing questions about what we can and will do next to limit future tragedies.
The beloved Boston Marathon became a Boston Massacre April 15 when two unsuspected terrorists took precious lives and left broken, bloodied victims, along with a nation in shock at its own vulnerability. Then two days later a fertilizer plant’s storage facility exploded in tiny West, Texas, also taking lives, destroying homes and leaving us once again dismayed at our vulnerability: This time to environmental disaster when regulations are too often broken and not adequately enforced.
The third tragedy, however, — or rather the first — may be the most insidious and lethal over time because it has and will cost us many more lives through violence, murder and suicide. The collection of sensible gun-control bills that held such promise for our nation’s safety and sanity — even the heavily compromised background-checks bill — failed to reach the U.S. Senate’s 60-vote threshold to become laws of the land. Sadly, the news coverage and painful outcry from that tragedy were too quickly muted by the horrific events of the week of April 15 in Boston and West, Texas.
Too quickly muted
Sadly, the news coverage and painful outcry from that tragedy were too quickly muted by the horrific events of the week of April 15 in Boston and West, Texas.
While the deadly crimes and mayhem in Boston prompt investigations, analyses and maybe public policy decisions, the post-mortem on the U.S. Senate vote against gun safety can only evoke just criticism and cries of shame — for now.
The U.S. Senate vote against gun safety can only evoke just criticism and cries of shame.
As he pleaded with the Tsarnaev brothers to surrender, their distressed uncle railed at them on television for the shame they had brought on their family. I and many others could echo his cries at our senators who broke the hearts of gun victim’s families everywhere and also broke their vow to represent the interests of voters, an overwhelming majority of whom support universal background checks for gun purchases.
The most shameful part of that vote was the lies of opponents and conspiracy theorists who misrepresented the content and intent of the bills before the senate. They profess more concern for protecting our right to keep and bear arms than protecting what our Constitution and our culture both value most: human life.
Twenty-five people were shot over Easter weekend alone in my hometown, Chicago; and more than 400 young people there were gunshot victims last year. We are forced to grieve over too many Hadiya Pendletons: young lives lost to illegal gun possession and senseless gun violence.
God’s 6th Commandment
Indeed, God’s Sixth Commandment should be more vital to God’s faithful than the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment: enough so that rampant murders, whether they happen all at once or daily in our streets and homes, should prompt us to adhere even more vigilantly to the Commandment than to the Constitution.
Besides, no rights exist without responsibilities and necessary rules. Even the most fundamental right of voting requires registration and increasingly, verification.
The devotion some have to their right to possess arms becomes irrational when they see it as a right to willfully buy and sell arms, which is not in the Constitution. And zealous resistance to legal oversight or common-sense constraints, or to making existing public safety laws more universal, and thus more effective, is more than irrational; it’s dangerous. To restrict background checks to store sales and not include gun-show, person-to-person and Internet sales makes a mockery of the law and places everyone at risk.
Gun-safety laws have been proven to work, despite the persistent lies of those who assert otherwise. Those who ignore that critical truth and instead submit to the purely mercenary motives of the National Rifle Assn. will bear blood on their hands for every death caused by firearms that end up in the wrong hands unnecessarily.
Faith demands hope
Nevertheless, I am decidedly hopeful — my faith demands as much — that God’s truth is marching on. We must appreciate and be encouraged by the progress of this recent and recurring endeavor. It took advocates a half-dozen tries before the Brady Bill was signed into law two decades ago, although that law was later weakened. The poignant advocacy offered by courageous families of the Newtown, Conn., mass shooting victims prevailed to force a Senate vote against efforts to prevent it through a filibuster.
“We deserve a vote!” President Obama and the families of many victims proclaimed. And we got one.
Now we deserve much more. We must keep going, keep pushing, keep praying and organizing and working for gun safety — indeed, gun sanity — laws that will surely save some lives. Not all, but some.
That’s what the Apostle Paul wrote of his valiant mission to save souls in 1 Corinthians 9:22: “That we might, by all means, save some.”
So let us use all means from hosting prayer vigils, protests and community forums, to buying ads and publishing opinions in print and social media, even to registering, informing and transporting voters to the polls during the crucial 2014 Congressional elections.
Estimates cite more than 3,500 U.S. gun deaths since the Newtown massacre four months ago; and that figure pre-dates last month’s Boston massacre. We can’t be daunted by the unprincipled senators who voted no to sensible gun-safety laws whether they did it for heartless or spineless motives.
We still have work to do, a charge to keep, a commandment to follow for the sake of thousands of victims and their families and for countless others who will surely become victims if we don’t prevail. By all means, let us try to save some.
*Editor's note: Bishop Felton May (retired) serves as pastor of Turning Point United Methodist Church in Trenton, N.J.