Churches. Synagogues. Mosques.
Elementary schools. High schools. Middle schools. Universities. Community Colleges.
Movies. Concerts. Malls. Restaurants. Nightclubs.
Post Offices. Military bases. Campaign rallies.
No public space in America is safe. All of the above have been targeted by perpetrators of mass shootings.
An active shooter scenario plays in my mind almost every time I lead worship. I locate all the exits. I imagine the quickest unimpeded route to various spots in the sanctuary where a shooter may be taking aim. I have been doing this for nearly a decade. I’ve shared it with some of my colleagues, who confide they do the same thing.
I also do it in movie theaters.
My neighbor, when we walk our respective 4th and 6th graders to school, stands at the school entrance until his son is inside the doors. He says he’s been doing that since Sandy Hook. He has a scenario too.
With each new incident, our imaginary scenarios lurch closer to a when and further from an if. The people in charge of America’s gathering spaces must now add active shooter drills to their fire drills and tornado drills as basic disaster preparedness.
But mass shootings aren’t tornadoes. They persist because of choices, not weather.
More mass shootings are no doubt in store for us because we keep choosing to permit individuals to own almost any kind of gun instead of choosing to protect movie-going, worshiping, learning, working populace from showers of bullets.
Because if you are not permitted to own a military-style assault rifle, are you really free?
Mass shootings happen because of mental health issues in the shooters, and because of ideology, be it racist, terrorist, homophobic, or anti-government, and because of personal vendettas and grievances. The mix of propellants is unique to each incident.
And yet every incident involves at least one gun. Some are handguns, some are rifles, some are shotguns, some are assault rifles. Most guns used in mass shootings are obtained legally, some are enhanced by illegal accessories. But they are all guns. There simply is not another tool that an individual can use to inflict such mass casualty. It’s what assault rifles are manufactured to do and what conventional guns can easily be made to do.
And still the gun, the only common denominator in every mass shooting, enjoys intense sympathy, even reverence, among a powerful enough segment of America to prevent any meaningful restrictions on their acquisition. Indeed, the two decade death march that started at Columbine and has now processed through Virginia Tech, Aurora, Orlando, Newtown, Charleston, San Bernardino, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, and many, many more public locales, seems only to have intensified guns’ protection. Gun control feels less likely now than it ever has.
Lord, have mercy.