The day after the Las Vegas shooting a first grader came to school with a few pages, carefully printed in the best first grade script she could manage. On the first page she had written, “Guns are not toys. I do not play with toy guns.” And she had her picture attached to it. On the second page was written “Kids don’t let kids play with guns.” The third page was a request for a toy gun turn in at her school.
Children unfortunately understand violence, some first hand and some by hearing their parents speaking about it. Every child in the United States absorbed, in one way or another, the tragedy of Las Vegas through their families and the news.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, former U.S. president and supreme commander of the Allied Forces on the European front in World War II, knew something about violence, war and acts of inhumanity and evil from what he witnessed first-hand during the war. As president he spoke these words: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children….This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”
The United States makes up 5 percent of the world’s population, but we have 36 percent of the world’s mass shootings. This of course excludes those oppressive regimes who routinely massacre their citizens in unreported numbers. Yet it says something. We haven’t left behind our Wild West mentality, our rule of law by the fastest gun. Threats and intimidations of more guns and more rockets and more warships with more bombings only ratchets up the threat of more of the same.
Jesus Christ told his disciples that to live by the sword is to die by the sword; and he told us to love our enemies, to pray for those who hurt us. To dismiss these teachings of Jesus as unrealistic in today’s world is to dismiss Jesus. We insist on freedom of religion and take court cases involving nativity scenes on public property all the way to the Supreme Court. If we were told that we couldn’t wear a cross or carry rosary beads we would be justifiably outraged. Yet we seem to fight for the symbols of our faith while ignoring the essence, the person of Jesus Christ, the totally peace-filled man, who neither condoned nor acted violently in his entire life. While hanging on a cross, Jesus forgave his executioners and torturers.
We do not have to pay attention to a first grade girl in a Catholic school. We do not have to pay attention to a former president and five star general of the United States Army. But if we dare call ourselves Christians we do have to pay attention to the teaching and life of Jesus Christ. To fail to do this is to imperil our very souls.
Intense shock, overwhelming grief, unspeakable sorrow and intangible fear are appropriate responses to the latest public terror on the strip in Las Vegas. Prayer, empathy, compassion and concern are also appropriate responses to the tragedy. The one response which is the most powerful is commitment to live a life of witness to nonviolence, of peace, of love of enemies. Such a life may not stop a deranged person from doing evil but it will change our society one person at a time, beginning with our children.
Sister Patricia McCarthy is provincial for the Congregation of Notre Dame. For many years she taught troubled children and victims of abuse.