The farming town of Gilroy, Calif., is known as the Garlic Capital of the World. Its claim to fame is the Gilroy Garlic Festival, where you can have a cone of garlic ice cream.
On July 29, Santino William Legan, a 19-year-old native of Gilroy, went to the festival, but he wasn’t looking for garlic ice cream. Legan was armed with an AK-47-type rifle he had legally bought three weeks before. He cut a hole in a fence to bypass metal detectors at the festival’s entrance and started shooting. He killed a 6-year-old boy, a 13-year-old girl and a 25-year-old recent college graduate. Minutes later, Legan killed himself.
A week later, in less than 15 hours, two new mass shootings in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and in nightlife district in downtown Dayton, Ohio, left at least 31 people dead and 53 injured.
What is our response to the horror of mass shootings? The constant repetition of these execrable crimes has made them common. By now, we know all the rituals in the aftermath of a mass shooting — the flowers, candles and teddy bears by the fence, the pictures of tearful friends or perfect strangers embracing each other, the “prayers and thoughts” signs and tweets.
Recently, we have heard parents or children of victims saying, “Don’t send us prayers and thoughts — do something about it.”
Our first response as people of faith will always be to pray. We pray for the victims and their families. And we are all overwhelmed — not just by these tragedies, but by the horrendous evil that causes them.
When it comes to doing something about the shootings, however, we seem to be incapable of coming together. Some call for stricter gun controls, while others defend the Second Amendment and say states with strict gun control laws have more mass shootings than the more permissive states do.
Defenders of gun rights base their reasoning not just on the Constitution, but also on the history and culture of the United States. But the right established by the Second Amendment is not absolute. The right to bear arms has limits, and we should negotiate those limits. Who has the right — and the responsibility — to define those limits? Who can tell when the right to bear arms is being violated?
The presumption that any limitations to bear arms violates the Second Amendment is false. (Would you like to see somebody getting in the F subway in the morning armed with a Bazooka?) While gun-rights activists can fight for looser restrictions, it is intellectually dishonest to consider every call for stricter regulations a violation of the Constitution.
According to recent studies, the gun homicide rate in the United States is nearly six times higher than it is in Canada, and the rate of 10.6 gun deaths per 100,000 people in the U.S. is also much higher than it is in Switzerland’s (2.8), Germany (0.9), the United Kingdom (0.3) and Japan (0.2).
In 2018, there were 14,641 deaths in the U.S. due to gun violence, 340 of them in mass shootings. It is odd to accept the number of deaths every year as an inexorable fate, like there is nothing we could do about it. In fact, it is not just odd, it is un-American.
The right to bear arms is enshrined in the Constitution, and many consider it a deterrent against the potential excesses of the government. At the same time, we need to find a way to stop the massacres of innocent people and the suffering of so many families. As Christians who defend the sanctity of life, we can’t be indifferent. As Americans, we can’t just accept that we’re unable to do anything to stop this horror.