Last Wednesday, student Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida. Like many of you, I was saddened to hear about one more mass shooting. This case is especially grave since early news reports revealed that he had a history of violence, and it was so evident that his classmates used to joke that he would become a murderer one day. In fact, senior administrators and teachers at his school were warned about him. Still the shooting happened. Still many politicians and other people are offering thoughts and prayers to the victims.
The day after the shooting, I saw that several friends had posted the following photo on Facebook:
My reaction to the photo was mixed. Why can’t we have thoughts and prayers as well as policy and change? While I respect that not everyone believes in thoughts and prayers, why do thoughts and prayers have to be framed as mutually exclusive from policy and change?
I started to think more critically about how prayer was used in conversations around national tragedies. It is a given that people pray for healing for the victims (well, if they are still alive) and their loved ones, but are people praying for prevention of violence and improving our current policies? If people think our current policies suffice, chances are they are not praying for them to improve.
Typically, I see prayer and thoughts as a starting point for change. As I reflected more on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, I started to think that I was wrong. I began to recognize that thoughts and prayers were not the sole starting point for change. A starting point can also be education and discernment on the issues relevant to mass shootings. Then people’s thoughts and prayers can be grounded in a stronger awareness of what is at stake.
Among my friends and acquaintances that advocate for thoughts and prayers—but not policy and change—I notice that they often resort to individual solutions. For example, they simply buy their own guns and keep them stored at home in case any burglar or attacker endangers their family.
The problem with this logic is that they have to be in the same setting as their children in order to protect them. Many of these mass shootings happen at schools. I do not know any parent who can defend their kid with a gun when the kid is getting shot at school while the parent is at work. That parent will likely be too late to play hero and protect the kid. Whether you own a gun or not, that is true. If your kid’s school gets shot up, your pistol will neither save them nor their classmates. Own your limitations and consider that when thinking policy.
When my friends and acquaintances who are against policy change start thinking of their individual limitations in protecting youth, they often recommend that we start training and arming teachers in the classroom.
I say nice try, but the youth of America deserve more adequate protection than any training you can give teachers, who are already underpaid for their full-time jobs. Believe it or not, but they work beyond regular school hours. There is actual planning, preparing, and evaluation that go into lessons. The fact that people would suggest putting more on teachers’ plates shows that they do not understand that teachers are already overworked.
Even if we could train and arm teachers to use guns in the classroom, a gunman has too many human targets for any teacher to protect them all.
I think of Anthony Borges, the 15-year-old student who was shot multiple times as he blocked a doorway with his body and protected 20 other students from Cruz. He is being hailed as a hero all over the media.
With that said, there is a GoFundMe page requesting donations to fund his medical treatment. Even if a teacher had been able to block Borges from gunshots, chances are that teacher would have ended up with medical bills and recovery to manage. Knowing that educators are commonly underpaid and overworked, how fair is it to saddle teachers with the responsibilities of the police? We don’t try to turn police into teachers so why do we try to turn teachers into police?
Whether it is a student, a teacher, or other bystander, someone is bound to be injured in a mass shooting. Our gun policies need to stop making it too easy for these people to be in situations where they will be left with trauma, physical injuries, and financial burdens if not death.
I’m not here to tell you to stop offering thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families, but I encourage you to ask yourself:
What informs your thoughts and prayers?
When you are thinking of the victims and their families, how are those thoughts improving their lives? How are those thoughts improving the culture and policies of our society?
When you are praying for the victims and their families, what are you requesting from your Higher Power? How do you hope those requests will strengthen the safety of our nation? How will those requests impact your personal responsibility in making America safer?
Consider that survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School started the campaign March for Our Lives shortly after the shooting. The teens are angry at adults who are neglecting their safety, and they are now are advocating for political action on gun control.
This is the first I have seen victims so collectively incensed after a mass shooting. We as a country must suck at this issue if these survivors are going from mourning to fury within a few days.
Think about that. Pray about that.
If our society’s culture and policies do not substantially change, then we have to change how we think and pray.