This week’s signing of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act is being lauded as the first substantive gun legislation in decades. While I struggle to define the legislation as substantive, it was necessary to restore a modicum of public trust in the ability of lawmakers to respond to a significant public policy crisis. In and of itself, that is a victory.
Although, I remain doubtful as to the actual effectiveness of the specific gun safety measure enacted. My doubt is rooted in my understanding of how legislators and legislative bodies operate. At their core, legislative bodies are reactive and prone to move on to the next pressing policy concern once the immediate crisis is “solved.” This is even more so with issues like gun violence, which evoke strong emotional responses.
I generally avoid writing about gun safety policies. This is not because I don’t think it’s important. It is terribly important. I struggle with writing about gun violence because it’s so deeply personal to me. I grew up in southeast Washington, DC, when the city was considered the murder capital of the United States. It was so bad my mother forbade me from returning home after I graduated from college.
The amount of gun violence was so prevalent it was assumed to be the price of living in DC. Despite the normalization of gun violence, we all were battered by an enormously high psychological cost.
There are only so many classmates you can see shot in the hallways of your high school; murders in front of your local barbershop, or bodies found in the alley behind your house before you break. There are some life experiences you don’t want to revisit in any way, shape, fashion, or form.
I decided to write this column after seeing a photograph of Aiden McCarthy in Highland Park, Illinois. He was found bloodied, lost, and afraid. Both his parents had been killed in an unfathomable act of violence. Although the photograph of young Aiden may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, it’s the weight of Buffalo, Uvalde, Jackson’s Gap, Tulsa, and the 23,763 people killed by gun violence in 2022 that broke my heart. For me, my heart, my faith, my conscience won’t allow me to remain silent when gun violence permeates so many aspects of American life.
With numbers this staggering, gun violence is no longer a failure of public policy but a moral crisis. My first sermon was preached from Luke 4:18. There, Jesus said his calling was to minister to the least of these: the poor, the orphaned, the widows, and the captives. In other words, my faith dictates I have a certain set of obligations when I’m confronted by those who have been broken and victimized by gun violence.
These obligations go far beyond offering my thoughts and prayers but must include sincere empathy. By empathy, I mean I must ground myself in the lived experiences of those most impacted by gun violence when advocating for or against a particular set of policy solutions.
It is a moral farce to claim a pro-life position on abortion yet worship the golden calf of guns as the 3rd rail of American Christianity. At some point, those of us who claim Christ need to have an honest theological conversation about this topic. Gun ownership and Christianity are not mutually exclusive, but gun ownership at the cost of the Christian witness is problematic. In my opinion, the fetishization of guns and gun ownership is inconsistent with the Christian faith.
Our country has a moral obligation to ensure no more children are orphaned, spouses widowed, parents left childless, and communities shattered.
I’m not arrogant enough to suppose I know the perfect policy prescriptions, but I do know there are reasonable solutions out there. More importantly, I know it’s immoral to do nothing. Now is the time for a moral revolution on gun violence. Gun violence is a moral crisis, and our response will say much about the moral fiber of this nation.
Terrance Carroll is a former speaker of the Colorado House. The first and only African American to ever hold that position in Colorado. He is a Baptist preacher, attorney, and police officer. He is on Twitter @speakercarroll.