Sunday morning came with the heartbreaking news that 29 innocent, everyday Americans were lost in mass shootings in two cities.
In El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, theses victims died of bullet wounds from devastating weapons. Another 40 people were taken to hospitals, some with life-threatening injuries. Loved ones were suffering unspeakably, families and friendships were shattered in seconds, whole communities were in trauma and mourning.
One common denominator in the latest two of this year’s more than 250 mass shootings is the type of weapon used by the assailants: semi-automatic, battlefield-style rifles. Other elements amidst the carnage included high capacity magazines and body armor. This unfinished year of violence has also established one fact: In the U.S., it is now a death risk to go shopping, go out to a restaurant, a festival, a park — or to work, to school, to worship.
In other words, in the United States, at any time, at any place, anyone might become a victim of a bullet sprayed from a machine-gun-like weapon. That is not just unacceptable, it is outrageous, untenable, supremely immoral and should be illegal before people are killed and maimed, not simply afterward.
The fact that Republican members of Congress and the president refuse to effectively restrict access to high-powered weapons out of fear the NRA and other gun lobby groups will punish them for it at the polls, constitutes moral turpitude on a breathtaking scale.
And Scripture is clear on this:
If you faint in the day of adversity,
your strength is small.
Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?
It doesn’t take brilliant insight to know that denying a would-be perpetrator the means to commit a despicable act will result in fewer of those despicable acts. Add to this that most of these mass shooters target unsuspecting and defenseless victims because they know that they will not be challenged until law-enforcement shows up. A high-capacity weapon allows them to do the most amount of damage in a sloppy, amateur and long-distance de-personalized way, all in a short amount of time.
Making the acquisition of high-powered, high-capacity weapons difficult, expensive, and at significant legal risk will scare away and discourage many would-be mass assassins before they are able to commit their atrocities. Others will be forced to use inferior grade weapons that do far less injury and are more easily stopped. Reasonable people know these things. Members of Congress and the president know these things. That they do not act on them out of self-interest leaves them morally culpable for the tragedies like El Paso, Dayton, Gilroy and so many others.
God gave us a means for correcting our moral errors — it’s called the conscience. Romans 2:15-16 reads, “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”
One “law written on their hearts” is this, “You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13) In my capacity as a minister to top elected and appointed officials in Washington, D.C., I spent 20 years handing out stone tablets of the Ten Commandments to lawmakers for display in their offices. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has one, but he shouldn’t need a stone tablet to tell him murder is wrong — and so is letting it happen, again and again.
If the courts and voters won’t hold recklessly irresponsible legislators like McConnell accountable for their moral negligence for ignoring the mounting threat to human life posed by the proliferation of semi-automatic weapons, God ultimately will, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:14)
The Senate majority leader, the president and every member of Congress must act now to save the lives of more Americans. We don’t need to worry whether another mass shooting involving a semi-automatic, high-capacity weapon will occur because we know it will.
To know and not to act is reprehensible, inexcusable and deadly. McConnell, Trump and Republican members of Congress: It is past time for you to join your Democratic colleagues in doing all you can now to limit firepower in the hands of depraved individuals bent on killing, maiming and terrorizing Americans. What matters is not the NRA and the rest of the gun lobby, but the well-being of the people you swore an oath before God to serve and to protect. It is the only moral thing to do, so, do your moral duty — now.
Rev. Rob Schenck, Ph.D., is an evangelical minister, public speaker and president of The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute. He is also the author of “Costly Grace: An Evangelical Minister’s Rediscovery of Faith, Hope, and Love.” He was a featured subject in the Emmy-winning documentary, “The Armor of Light,” directed by Abigail E. Disney. Schenck is also a founding signer of the Prayers & Action petition.