In the aftermath of yet another school shooting that took the lives of 19 children, all about the same age as my own, the angry reactions from around the country emphasized, “No more thoughts and prayers, we need action.”
So, of course this would set up an interesting response on Saturday and Sunday in synagogues and churches across the country. I imagine every single sermon that weekend spoke to the massacre in some way or another. If nothing else, I imagine many clergy felt the need to highlight the importance of prayer in a time like this and that there does remain a place for prayer.
And yet, I would suggest that in reality, thoughts and prayers have been incredibly effective because we have misunderstood where they have been directed. The Saturday following the Uvalde massacre, I attended a bat mitzvah, which I could probably find much to write about broadly, but what stood out in the many scripture readings, psalms and singing of the morning was a verse from Leviticus about the commandment regarding false idols. Our gun problem in this country is one of idolatry.
While many of us have been offering prayer to the victims, for their well-being, others have been offering their prayers to the gun industry, the culture of machismo and ridiculously unnecessary amounts of firepower.
What should be abundantly clear at this point is that there is no justifiable need for any average citizen to own weapons whose sole intent is mass killing. These are weapons of war, intended unfortunately for the current war in Ukraine, not for use in our streets or in homes for self-defense. They are intended for use within the constructs of a well-regulated militia.
The Second Amendment is probably one of the most-parsed clauses in our Constitution. The Supreme Court has affirmed the individual right to own firearms ostensibly for the purpose of self-defense, but it recognizes the right of the state to some regulation and limitations. One of those limitations must be the banning of individual ownership of assault rifles.
The Senate is currently seeking compromise on lower threshold efforts at gun safety such as red flag laws, increasing the minimum age for purchases, banning of high-capacity magazines, safe storage requirements and the ever popular, but unpassable by Congress, background check requirements.
We also see the shifting of blame from guns to mental illness, the inadequate response from police on the scene in Uvalde, the false argument that gun laws don’t work because cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C., have the strictest gun laws but the highest incidence of gun violence.
Ignore the fact that those guns in Chicago and D.C. are probably purchased a short drive away in Indiana or Virginia, where guns are easier to purchase than alcohol. Without the gun involved in the mass shooting in Uvalde, or other sites, we would never have to have a discussion about the intersection of mental health and guns, nor the police response to mass shooting incidents.
The simple fact remains: These intersections would not exist without the availability of guns capable of mass casualties.
And yet, we continue to allow a fringe religious group that continues their thoughts and prayers to their almighty guns to hold our country hostage. Children’s, teacher’s, senior’s and law enforcement lives are the acceptable collateral. We are only a pro-life Christian nation until the more important religion of guns takes over and children’s lives no longer matter out of the womb and Blue lives are subservient to warped interpretations of the Second Amendment.
I fear that we will continue to claim our outrage at the loss of life following what is becoming a daily mass shooting incident but deem them worthy sacrificial lambs in the worship of our nation’s false god.
We will all continue to offer thoughts and prayers, and they are working, just not the way most of us might have intended.
David Inoue is executive director of the JACL. He is based in the organization’s Washington, D.C., office.