Gun Violence: Would Faith Stop School Shootings Like Uvalde? | Opinion
There’s this great scene in the “Mr. Bean” movie in which the main character travels to America under the supposedly absurd idea that every American carries a gun everywhere they go. He engages in over-enthusiastic cultural cosplay and is arrested.
It was supposed to be a joke. Instead, it became a cutting cultural commentary on American gun culture.
I am in favor of reasonable gun control; I’m a proponent of requiring gun owners to carry liability insurance, but I’m fine with any reasonable package that has a good chance of making a difference.
If we are interested in solving the school problem shootingslet’s definitely look at gun control.
If we want to solve the school problem shootershowever, we’ll have to dig deeper.
More than just reducing homicides, we must tackle the more insidious problem of homicide. Effective gun control would turn a murderous maniac with a gun into a murderous maniac looking for one, and that’s not good enough for me. I don’t just want to live in a world of would-be shooters, who have been casually denied access to firearms.
Politics can treat the symptoms, but to treat the underlying disease we still have work to do. Hard work. Work of the heart, even.
There are so many examples of people who have worked hard and blessed the world with their changes.
Malcolm X traveled to Mecca and converted to Islam and non-violence.
Benjamin Franklin went from slave owner to abolitionist.
Perhaps my favorite is John Newton, the hard-working former slave ship captain who is now known as the man who wrote the lyrics to “Amazing Grace.”
In theological circles, the word for this work is “repentance.” Or conversion, if you prefer.
It’s hard to talk about religion in the public square these days. And would Uvalde, Texas shooter Salvador Ramos have been saved by more public school prayers and Ten Commandments monuments? Not likely.
Perhaps that’s why Kate Cohen wrote critically in the Washington Post recently about those who use their faith as a screen to make less in political terms. I’m glad she called them.
“So…what if we all renewed our faith, put God back in the classrooms and embraced religious belief – how exactly would that stop people from shooting children? Seriously, members of Congress, please explain. How would that work?
I’m not a congressman, but allow me to respond.
I have seen faith make people better. Once I was a missionary. I remember once approaching a man sitting on his porch and making a direct appeal: “We help people change. Can we help you?” He burst into tears. He couldn’t stop drinking. Alcohol was destroying his family. We worked with him for two months – two months during which he got sober, found a community of support and began reuniting with his family.
Some people joke about “finding Jesus.” I know a man who wouldn’t have dared. He told me about his old life. “Young man, I hustled more drugs than Van Camp’s pork and beans,” he said. So God changed him. When he spoke of “finding Jesus,” it was with solemnity and gratitude.
Will conversion make a difference to our thorniest societal issues? I suspect nothing less will do. Salvador Ramos certainly needed better gun rules and better mental health services, but the cure we need goes further than any social policy can provide.
As the late Neal A. Maxwell, who served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said, living the gospel is worth more than a thousand compensatory government programs, which are “so often like ‘straighten the deck chairs on the Titanic.'”
Conversion is the most fundamental kind of change possible: not a software update or even an operating system refresh. It’s a software refresh on the motherboard, or maybe a rewiring of the hardware itself.
Salvador Ramos needed a moment of repentance, but so did we.
In scripture, individual and societal direction toward something better often comes from a prophetic truth-teller – one who is called to warn people and encourage them to be better.
I am happy to discuss, another time, what is the right prophet to listen to; right now we refuse to listen any of them. My prophet is a heart surgeon in Salt Lake City, but I also freely confess that I was inspired (and indicted) by the words of the Dalai Lama. I felt the need to be better because of Pope Francis, Jane Elliot, David French, Arthur Brooks, Bishop Barron, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and Ta-Nehisi Coates.
I have had profound, even spiritual experiences listening to the words of the prophets of rationalism like Carl Sagan and moral humanism like Jonathan Haidt. There are prominent atheists who have helped me to be a better disciple. And there are good Muslims who have made me a better Christian.
Prophets abound, if only we listen to them.
And we could also surely bear to return to the altars of American civil religion a little more often.
My lay friends may be wondering where this is leading them. I hope we don’t overlook the power of religion to change people for the better while pursuing a big-tent approach to what Arthur Brooks calls “a coalition of the righteous.” Anyone who wants to be decent – more patient, kinder, more honest, more willing to show moral courage – is welcome.
You may find my belief in prophets strange. Perhaps you find the idea that religion and conversion are at the heart of solving the problems of our country silly. When you hear this, it may even sound offensive to you.
But can you really shake the feeling that something is deep Wrong in this country? That there are problems that more laws and more spending will never be able to correct?
General James “Mad Dog” Mattis was asked about the biggest threats to the United States. His haunting answer: Americans have lost affection for each other. Arthur Brooks observed that we should be the happiest people in the world for our GDP and economic power, but our happiness is declining across the board. Our institutional confidence is at historic lows, something that terrifies me (and should terrify you). We had the fracas of January 6, the racial tensions, the unrest surrounding the Supreme Court and Roe. Then a plague. Inflation. War.
And then, of course, the school shootings.
What Salvador Ramos’ family needed is provided by our religious institutions and places of worship. What Salvador Ramos needed was moral responsibility in his home. What Salvador Ramos needed was a ‘powerful change of heart’.
And maybe if we’re humble enough, we’ll realize that’s what we need too.
Benjamin Pacini is a former middle school math teacher and assistant principal. He now teaches prospective teachers at BYU-Idaho.