Commentary: Orlando, guns and a culture of violence

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By the Rev. Alison Miller

I am so tired of the argument: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”

People with guns have the power to kill people, and people with assault rifles can kill many people at a time.

This weekend, we have learned just how many lives they can take at once – the death toll for the largest mass shooting in our country is 50 dead (so far) and 53 injured at Pulse night club in Orlando.

candleGun manufacturers and gun advocates want to portray guns and by reflection themselves as somehow blameless.

We are frequently told how “responsible” gun owners of these popular assault weapons can be – and how they merely use them for target practice, hunting, and self-defense.

Well, you can’t have it both ways – you can’t seek to be both responsible and blameless at the same time.

To be responsible is to be accountable and answerable for doing the right thing. How responsible is it for us as a country to have reached the point where we are more likely to be killed by gunfire than in a car accident?

What have these “responsible” gun manufacturers and advocates done to eliminate guns falling into the hands of someone filled with hatred or fear and wreaking carnage on the innocent?

I mourn the loss of every individual who decided to go to Pulse to have a night out, to be with friends, and to meet up with friends and allies in the continuing LGBT struggle for equality.

If gun manufacturers, the NRA, and other gun advocates want to be responsible, then they must promote common sense gun legislation that moves us towards eliminating “civilian” assault rifles that are based on military weapons whose purpose is to be able to injure and kill large numbers of people at a time.

Instead of purchasing these weapons of mass destruction, why don’t you work on your aim as a way to yield better results in target practice?

When I look at whose lives are ended because of gun violence, I see a need to de-escalate our culture of violence.

If gun manufacturers, the NRA, and other gun advocates want to be “responsible,” then I suggest a decent portion of the profits of gun and ammunition sales go towards things like:

  • Programs to support victims of domestic violence as they build new lives;
  • Anti-racism, anti-oppression, and multiculturalism training for law enforcement, and as a requirement for receiving a gun license;
  • Psychological counseling for veterans and soldiers wrestling with PTSD;
  • Better mental health programs for people coping with depression and addiction; and
  • Counseling for families and survivors of the losses due to gun violence.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask of a “responsible” $15 billion industry. The profits from gun and ammunition sales is $1.5 billion annually – 20 percent, or even 10 percent, of that would go a distance towards taking responsibility.

Saturday night, over 300 beautiful souls went out to enjoy a summer evening at a night club in a place they thought was safe. However, like college campuses, movie theaters, and houses of worship, any place can be transformed by terror when a hardened human heart and a resolute human hand has access to an assault weapon like an AR-15 rifle.

My prayers go out to those who died in Orlando, and to their families. May we all listen to the legacies of love and life that they leave behind, and may the whole community find ways to grieve and to heal.

My prayers go out to those who survived the attack, but who will bear the physical, psychological and spiritual scars. May your wounds be recognized and attended to, and may you be surrounded by love and compassion.

My prayers go out to all my LGBT identified family, friends, and congregants who know that this could easily have been you, and who know all too well that homophobia and transphobia can be a matter of life and death.

May we work together to continue to dismantle the legacies of violence and othering in our own communities.

My prayers go out to all those who have been impacted by gun violence and for whom today is a painful reminder. May we work together to reduce the proliferation of guns, to limit access, and to create measures that are worthy of the words responsible, smart, and safe.

Let us sit with our tears and grief and give them the space and time they deserve. We will count the cost in human life and of human suffering.

Then, let us recommit ourselves to ending senseless gun violence that has escalated to a point beyond justification. It is time to enact the changes that love demands.

The Rev. Alison Miller is senior minister of the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, and a candidate to lead the national Unitarian Universalist Association.

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