Yet another shooting tragedy has befallen us in the United States. Starting with Columbine in 1999, it has become a regular feature of American life in the 21st century. Fast forward to Friday, and we are now mourning the absurd slaughter of 12 people trapped in a theater in Aurora, Colorado. Our reactions cultural and personal are interesting to behold.
Take mine: my first thought as a devout follower of the Prince of Peace was to think, Maybe I should start packing a gun. We live in a broken society in which the police can no longer protect me and my family. It's probably up to me to do that now.
My sarcasm does not signal that I'm for or against gun control. We may be at a cultural moment when more self-defense is called for. Or maybe such a solution would just lead to more useless violence. I'll let political and social scientists sort that out. I'm more interested at this point in my reaction as a disciple of Jesus: it began with fear and self-protection.
It then moved on to vainglory, as I imagined how I would want to act in such a horrific situation. I had images of myself tackling the shooter or throwing my body over helpless victims, taking the bullet for others. This is adolescent, I know, but it's actually what went through my mind. For all I know, at such a moment, I may just as easily pee in my pants. But my pride says I'd play the hero.
At some point, my thoughts finally got around to thinking about others, to those who actually took a bullet, the wounded and dead, and the loved ones left grieving. But then another uncharitable thought immediately rose to the surface: I'd happily kill the s.o.b. who did the shooting.
I suspect my selfish, prideful, and revengeful reactions are not unusual, and that for most of us, they are checked by higher ideals. But there they are, mixed in with compassion, reason, and hope.
Lord, have mercy.
The national reaction of shock and outrage is understandable and at one level a continuing sign of our humanity. God forbid that we would react to these tragedies as we do to daily murder in big cities. The day after the latest Colorado shootings, The Chicago Tribune email newsletter began with this: "One dead, seventeen wounded in attacks across city." It sounded like a coordinated effort, so I opened the link. I discovered it was just another 17 shootings, the sort of thing that happens in Chicago with routine monotony. This no longer shocks us; it's part of the daily grist of news which is no longer news. So far in July alone, 27 people have been murdered in Chicago—over twice as many as were killed in the Aurora shooting. Last year in Chicago in July alone, 55 were murdered.
Why are we not shocked and outraged at this daily violence? If we were, would it do any good? What would it do to our psyches to be aware and outraged every day? Maybe we have no psychological choice but to move the violence to the subliminal regions. But then along comes a mass shooting, and we are aware, if only briefly, how much violence and fear of violence we live with daily.
To put it another way: it's best we not think too deeply about our key rings, the symbol of dark principalities and powers that seem to rule our world. I have keys to my front door, back door, garage, two cars, overhead luggage rack, just to begin the list. And dozens of keys for rental property I own. And so many online passwords, especially for financial matters, that I have to have a separate program, with its own password, to store them. Dozens of times a day I lock and unlock things physical and electronic, because we live in a world where people will do violence to me and the things I own if I don’t lock things down. Not necessarily killing, but anyone who has had their home broken into knows the feeling of being violated by a mere act of theft. And yes, sometimes theft involves real killing.