It has now been a week since a young gunman, armed with a semi-automatic rifle and enough ammunition to kill dozens, burst into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT and commenced a slaughter of the innocents. Over the past week the victims of that shooting have been laid to rest, even as a debate over the role of guns in our society has commenced. Passions are running high on all sides, and some "solutions" are more sensible than others. My hope and prayer is that we will have a serious conversation. The idea that guns don't kill people simply doesn't hold up. People use all manner of weapons to kill, but guns are the most effective means, especially military assault style weapons with extended magazines.
This morning as the bells of the nation toll, it is appropriate to remember Sand Hook -- it's children, its teachers and staff, its families and its neighbors, as they grieve their loss. It is also appropriate that we have that conversation, and have it sooner than later.
I share the reflections below of Jeanne Bishop, an attorney whose own family was struck by a gunman, and who has devoted her life to achieving sensible gun laws. I invite you to ponder her message and consider a way forward.
Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion
The University of Chicago Divinity School
The University of Chicago Divinity School
Sorrow, Pity and Sandy Hook School
-- Jeanne Bishop
I was in a judge’s chambers in a conference when a sheriff rushed in to tell us: gunfire at an elementary school in Connecticut. Another lawyer pulled out her iPhone and read out the unfolding horrors: twenty children dead, mowed down by a gunman who had executed them, one by one.
The news hit me like a body blow. Twenty-two years ago, another innocent child was shot to death: the baby my sister Nancy was carrying within her. Nancy was 25 years old and three months pregnant when she and her husband Richard were shot and killed by an intruder in their home.
He was waiting for them in the dark when they returned home the night before Palm Sunday, 1990. He pointed a .357 Magnum revolver at them and forced them into the basement. There, he put the gun to the back of Richard’s head and fired once, killing him instantly. The murderer turned the gun on Nancy and pumped two bullets into the cruelest place imaginable: her pregnant abdomen.
Tonight in Connecticut, there will be parents who will walk by a beloved child’s room and see an empty bed. No tiny head on the pillow, no covers mussed. No fragrant, familiar smell of shampooed hair and flannel pajamas. No sound of breath rising and falling. Still as a tomb.
On the day children perished at Sandy Hook School, a dear friend who knows of my family’s tragedy sent me prayers, from the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer.
One was “For the Care of Children”:
Almighty God, heavenly Father, you have blessed us with the joy and care of children
Another was “For a Person in Trouble or Bereavement”:
O merciful Father…Look with pity upon the sorrows of thy servant….
When the children of Sandy Hook were being led out of the school to safety, they were told to close their eyes. Wise adults knew to shield them as much as possible from the carnage around them.
But we, the adults, need to look. We need to see it, and own all we have done, and not done, to make that carnage possible. We could start, for instance, by asking why it is that we can buy ammunition clips designed for mass murder: a gunman can shoot child after child after child, and not have to stop to reload.
If God has blessed us with the joy and care of children—all children, not just our own but the children of Newtown, CT and Detroit and Chicago’s own killing fields—then guns are not just about politics or preference; they are about faith.
Jeanne Bishop is a criminal lawyer in Chicago and an adjunct professor at Northwestern University School of Law. Since the shooting deaths of three family members in 1990, Ms. Bishop has been a prominent advocate for sensible gun laws.
Editor's Note: Sightings will break for the holidays and return after the New Year.
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School.