Last Sunday morning I served as an usher at my church after working a late Saturday night monitoring the events surrounding mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton.
When it was time to do the offering, I was asked to pray.
The gifts and givers
Standing there before the congregation, I began my prayer as I always do when called upon: by giving thanks to God for us living in a land that allows us the freedom to worship.
That freedom did not come cheap; nor is it a cheap price we pay to continue having it.
I thanked Him for the gifts and the givers, asking sincerely that He bless these offerings and help us to see how best to put them to good use.
I always pray for forgiveness, as Lord knows we all have plenty to seek.
Then, I prayed for El Paso and Dayton. I prayed for the grieving families of the victims. I prayed for the communities heartbroken and bloodstained from such senseless loss of life.
And I prayed for our nation.
I’m a gun owner.
Yes, I know how to shoot the guns I own.
My grandfather taught my Dad how to shoot. That grandfather was good with a gun, and being a good ole Alabama boy, he almost got kicked out of the Army during World War II for using his rifle at the wrong time.
During his training right before his unit was destined to be shipped to the South Pacific for the planned invasion of Japan, which thank Heavens never became necessary, he was standing guard out on the fence line at his base in Florida when a rattlesnake crawled up.
So, he shot it.
That, of course, immediately put the base into an uproar, and my grandfather’s only defense was, “In Alabama, that’s what they teach us to do with guns and rattlesnakes!”
He was saved by the bomb.
Quite literally, actually, by not having to go invade Japan; and otherwise by soon being dismissed to go home with the ending of the war and folks quickly forgetting about that thwarted rattlesnake incursion.
Before the Marines
My Dad taught me how to shoot, and my favorite firearm to this day is my grandfather’s .30-30 Winchester rifle.
I taught my son how to shoot, although now I find myself being nudged aside for that claim by none other than the United States Marine Corps, which says it taught him how to shoot a little more than I did.
We have shot many firearms together, including those known as an AK-47 and an AR-15.
Non-gun owners and shooters are justified in asking why anyone would feel the need to own such a weapon. The answers are as varied as the personalities of the owners, and among them, there is plenty of good and plenty of bad, evil, carelessness and instability.
What must be understood is that there is no one-size-fit-all answer to gun violence.
What also must be understood is that our nation desperately needs to take action – real action – to prevent it.
A city misconceived
El Paso is a wonderfully friendly city, and too many Americans incorrectly stereotype it.
I have visited it often as a journalist, and once spent several days there before embarking on an American delegation visit to several cities in Mexico to discuss press freedoms during a time rival drug cartels were at war.
El Paso is one of the most peaceful cities in the entire United States, and I was amazed at just how so.
Mexicans who live just south of the Rio Grande go back and forth across the border by the tens of thousands every single day, and it is not a problem because they are properly documented, they remain loyal to their heritage and families in Mexico, they are greatly appreciative of the U.S., and the El Paso economy very dearly depends on them, both to fill jobs and as consumers.
Cultural diversity thrives there, with a lively and colorful mix representing the best of both, Mexicana and Americana.
The El Paso community sees itself as one big, peaceful, easy-going community, and residents see themselves as depending on one another.
The “invasion” in El Paso last Saturday wasn’t from illegal immigration, which does remain a wider spread problem along the border. It was from the shooter that drove from hours away to kill people who simply were different from him.
The shooter, it should be noted, legally owned the gun. But, he was filled with bigotry and hate.
So, what social issues do we address with this evil?
Bless the children
Similarly, I worked in New York as a corporate editor and ended up helping to dispatch nearly 50 journalists over time to Newtown, Conn., in the extremely painful aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
It remains an emotional scar to me buried deep into my soul.
The shooter at Sandy Hook took his mother’s firearms and killed her with them before slaying 20 innocent kindergartners and six adults. The firearms were too easily available to him, and he had mental health issues.
What social issues do we address with this evil?
That idiot shooter in Las Vegas who fired into the crowd during a concert had collected a small arsenal. No one knows his motives, but everyone questioned why he was allowed to own such deadly firepower and in a hotel room.
What social issues do we address with this evil?
Some of us own guns because of that “country boy can survive” attitude, some for hunting, some strictly for self-defense, and some for sport and competition.
Others like the feeling of empowerment it gives them, and for those who fanaticize too far with such feeling or become too influenced by violent video games and such, it quickly can become dangerous.
Ditto for those who simply are mean bullies.
Do we address racism and mental health as an issues to stop mass shootings? Yes!
Do we address gun laws and require better background checks for certain weapons? Yes!
Do we study what weapons should be limited, and how, for basic gun ownership? Yes!
Do we teach gun safety for legal owners, and how to defend ourselves? Yes!
The point here is, gun violence must be attacked with the same engineering in mind as that with constructing a revolver. Put a social-issue strategy in every chamber. One bullet answer won’t kill the monster.
A single master plan that includes break-out strategy for each need, however, could work.
Will Congress, the president, and the American citizenry appreciate and approach it that way?
Maybe, but only then can we as a nation satisfy the image in the mirror that we tried.
This is us
I sat down after passing around the collection plate, and I picked up my Bible to turn to the scripture of the day.
Yet, my mind was still wondering. Who in the congregation might have a firearm on them during that very sermon? Who do I wish had a firearm on them, should it be needed?
And was it a sin for me to be thinking in such a way in a house dedicated to the Lord?
That’s where we are, America.
Yet, we remain blessed in a land with freedoms to change our laws and society.
Troy Turner is editor of the Opelika-Auburn News. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @troyturnernews.