Partial Knowledge and Uncertain Results

The tragic slaughter of human life in Las Vegas calls up in me a demand for a positive and final solution to gun violence and our national love affair with firearms. I want such violence never again to take place. I want our elected leaders to give back every dime they have received from the National Rifle Association. I want them to outlaw individual ownership of assault weapons again. I want to eliminate the phrase “bump-stock” from our vocabulary. 

I feel that flood of desire and yet I know that my wants and wishes will not “come to pass.” At best, my rational mind tells me, we might press for enough of a conversation to ban “bump-stocks” and perhaps 100 bullet magazines. Could background checks be made mandatory for gun purchases? Or required registration for gun ownership, like automobiles? That is probably too much to dream of. I know. 

Las Vegas has dominated the news, but the truth is that mass killings (killings of multiple persons) are so common in the US today that they rarely make the national news. Local only. 

And mass shootings claim only a small proportion of the lives lost to firearms in this country. Of the 33,000 gun deaths each year, 2/3rds are suicides (21,000). Gang violence contributes a significant number (7,000). 1700 women are murdered every year, usually as the result of domestic violence. 

The United States tops the list for gun ownership and gun violence in the developed world. We are exceptional in this area…tragically. 

I fear that we will manage only a debate that discovers that no small change in laws, or even large change in laws, is likely to guarantee that mass killing will never visit us again. 

Although that is true, we will continue our religious witness for sensible gun safety legislation, for background checks for all gun purchases, for waiting periods and for limits on magazine size and, yes, making those “bump-stocks” illegal. 

We will continue our witness for non-violence, even though we cannot guarantee success. Even though we do not yet know what motivated the Las Vegas shooter to plan and execute such a massacre. 

We will continue our witness because we are called to remind ourselves and our world that the way things are is not the ways things have to be. We will continue our witness as part of our spiritual discipline to love the world as it is and as it should be. We are not ambivalent. We love them both. It is a paradox. 

Rev. Sarah York writes: 

“There is a difference between ambivalence and paradox. In ambivalence, we are torn—our feelings conflict. In paradox, we accept and admit our own tensions—our feelings generate creative energy from the dynamic of opposites. In ambivalence, we have difficulty making commitments and decisions; we convey double meanings to others. In paradox, we admit our uncertainties and reservations and we act, wholeheartedly committing ourselves to our experiences. 

Perhaps the main difference is that in paradox we are willing to make commitments when all we can ever hope for is partial knowledge and uncertain outcome.” 

If you have not seen the new Peace Pole in the Breeezeway between the Sanctuary and Eliot Center, make time to look next Sunday. It is a visible sign and symbol of our religious commitments, installed by our Peace Action Group. 

And look for more information on Sunday at the Peace Action Table in Fuller Hall about opportunities to raise our voice in whatever conversation our political leaders can be encouraged to have. Perhaps better said, look for opportunities to insist that our elected leaders have a broader conversation about guns and safety than the NRA would ever allow.