High school students hold candles in front of the North Carolina Capitol in Raleigh Feb. 20 in memory of the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The students were calling for safer gun laws after 17 people were killed when 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz stormed the Parkland school Feb. 14 with an AR-15 semi-automatic style weapon. CNS photo/Jonathan Drake, Reuters)

Charles Lewis: Gun violence needs more than prayers

  • February 28, 2018

The massacre of 17 innocents at a Parkland, Fla., high school is not fading out of the news as quickly as other similar tragedies that have plagued the United States.

What makes this awful event different is the persistent voices from those students who were spared. They have been all over the news, imploring politicians to get rid of the kind of assault weapons used to massacre their classmates.

These young people have had enough. They are asking for things that should have happened a long time ago. I took great delight in noting their reactions to politicians offering their “prayers and thoughts” without ever following up with concrete action.

Time magazine interviewed 17-year-old student Carly Novell. Her comment was typical of her fellow students.

“I think it’s great that they’re saying ‘thoughts and prayers,’ but it doesn’t do anything. And after every single shooting that’s what they say over and over again, but nothing every changes,” said Novell, who hid in a closet for two hours to escape the gunman. “It has to be political because this happened because of guns, this happened because of the relaxed gun laws that we have.”

The Parkland students went to the Florida legislature in Tallahassee only to watch their political representatives defeat a bill to ban assault weapons and other devices, such as large-capacity magazines that allow a killer to wreak maximum havoc before having to reload.

Some students and their parents met with Donald Trump at the White House, where for once he appeared to listen instead of incessantly tweeting. There is even a possibility he may make some modest moves towards gun control: increased background checks and banning “bump stocks,” which turn a semi-automatic rifle into an automatic weapon. The crazed shooter in Las Vegas, who took the lives of 58 and wounded 851, used a bump stock to make his weapons more lethal.

It’s curious that the Las Vegas tragedy alone didn’t move lawmakers to get rid of these bump stocks but apparently they were not moved enough to take action. Though they were quick with their prayers.

As a Roman Catholic I believe in the power of prayer. Without it we dry up and our faith hangs by a thread. Indeed, every campaign we take part in — whether to feed the needy, assist pregnant women or fight for conscience rights — should be accompanied by prayer.

Prayer when action is possible should not be the end. Our own faith tells us it should be the beginning.

St. James understood this completely. Read what he has to say in his New Testament epistle:

“What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

“But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.”

But when leaders are so beholden to mammon, their public piety should stick in their throats. How does one offer prayers on one hand then refuse to take action on the other hand, especially when lives are at stake? How does one offer prayer and then take money from the very lobby group who refuses to budge on anything that smells like gun control?

Of those who sent out prayers and Bible passages, Marco Rubio, a senator of Florida, has received $3 million from National Rifle Association. The NRA broke its own record for political donations by giving a whopping $30 million to the Trump campaign.

Everyone knows that the Parkland tragedy was not an isolated incident. Yet the frequency has been such that likely few can even remember attacks from just a few years ago.

How many remember (I didn’t) a shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon in 2015 that left 10 dead and eight wounded? How many remember what happened at Rancho Tehama Reserve in California last year that left six dead and 18 wounded? Or how about the tragedy in Kentucky in January in which two were killed and 18 wounded.

Jesus talked about prayer being private. Not being used to show off our piety like the Pharisees. He understood that at times public prayer is nothing more than grandstanding, a phony self-aggrandizing act.

I hope Americans continue to pray. But I hope that moves them to do something. Otherwise it’s nothing more than a puff of smoke, hovering over a nation in which the bodies of the innocent continue to be stacked higher and higher.

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Catholic Register.)

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