America’s Demon: Guns Dec16


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America’s Demon: Guns

“I’m tired of death by handgun and I will fight to make certain that handguns are banned in the United States. We have seen too many innocent people die. I want to live in a country where people are safe, where we don’t live in the constant threat of violence by guns.”

I clearly remember saying words like these to myself on December 8, 1980. That day, John Lennon had been walking to his home at The Dakota in New York City when a man with a handgun took his life. It was the turning point for me. I decided it was time to do something, so I joined a handgun control advocacy group and resolved to do something about the problem.
By 1980 I’d already been affected by the violent deaths of heroes. One of my earliest memories is riding in the car with my mom, just 2 days after my sixth birthday, when she pulled the car off to the side of the freeway to hear the radio report about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Then I was 10 years old when first Martin Luther King, Jr., and then Robert F. Kennedy were shot and killed. By the time I was 23 years old — in 1980 — I’d had enough. And then:

  • Since 1982 there have been 61 mass killings in the U.S. alone;
  • Counting only those in Washington State:
    • 1983 – 14 killed or injured at the Wah Mee club in Seattle;
    • 1994 – 28 injured or killed at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane;
    • 2006 – 9 injured or killed on Capitol Hill in Seattle. On the morning of the Capitol Hill killings, a friend of mine heard shots from a house across from his own home, then watched from his front window as the killer of six people took his own life.
    • 2009 – 5 injured or killed at a coffee shop in Parkland
    • 2012 – 7 injured or killed at Cafe Racer in Seattle

All of these killings were by people using guns. Gun violence is America’s demon, and our demon had its way with us again on Friday.

“Lord, have mercy,” was all I could think of when I first heard the news about Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

“Lord, have mercy.”

Why? Why innocent children? Little children? Beautiful children?

If you’re like me, you also began to think about what it would be like to be a parent of one of the children of this school. The terror, the panic, the anguish, the relief … or the horror.

Then we heard stories of heroism. Teachers who protected their children. A principal and counselor who ran toward the shooter to make him stop. A janitor who ran up and down the hallways telling people to run.

Then we thought of the children again, and waves of horror and sadness washed over us. We watched the President of the United States shared the nation’s sorrow as tears filled his eyes. And we wondered, how many more people will have to die before we do something?

Over the last two days I’ve walked through the stages of grief — shock and sorrow, and today I’ve arrived at a new stage. The stage of anger. I’m angry that we allow innocent children to die. I’m angry that we failed the children and parents of Newtown, Connecticut. I’m angry at our political paralysis that fills our hearts with grief in this and other mass shootings.

And I am angry at America’s demon.

Now, we don’t believe in demons anymore, I know. But “demonic” is the best word to describe what has captured us.

In biblical times, a person with a mysterious and unsolvable problem was described as being possessed by a demon or demons. People with demons threw themselves into fires or ran around naked or ranted madly at the top of their lungs or were tied down with chains. The word “demon” described an illness that tormented the victim and turned them against themselves. It was a way to describe something that no one could fix, that was beyond the capacity of healers. The demon took away the free will of the host and turned the host toward its own twisted and destructive purposes.

Evil possesses our society. How else to explain that:

  • Americans own more handguns on average than any other country in the world.
  • There are 8 times more gun deaths in the US than in any other developed country;
  • American children between 5 and 14 years old are 13 times more likely to die of a gun death than children in any other developed country#;
  • Last year there were 31,347 firearm deaths in the U.S. according to the CDC
  • In six months, more Americans die in gun related deaths than have died in terrorist attacks and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

And the demon is powerful and has a voice. We are told that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, so we are powerless in the face of the proliferation of guns. We’ve been shown that any leader who tries to take away Americans’ guns will be thrown from office. We are told that Americans have a God-given right to have handguns, semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles and that the Constitution protects that right. We are even told that the best way to protect Americans is for more Americans to carry weapons.
These are the voices of evil. The demon has convinced us that our only hope for life is to be tormented by its evil our whole life long. So we have given up hope for our future, hope that we can change our society, hope that we can live in a nation of peace on our streets, in our homes and in our schools.

And then in the nighttime of our sorrow we hear the words of John, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.” In our sorrow we remember the words of Zechariah spoken in this church last Sunday,

“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

The light is the light of love that calls forth the demons from their evil, that casts them into the abyss, that sets the prisoner free. This is the light that shines from the very heart of God, that lights a flame of anger and love in our hearts, that calls us to change our lives and our world, that then moves even an entire people, soul by soul, toward a new land of freedom and peace, of hope and love for others.

When someone tells us that we can’t change our country and reduce the threat of gun violence, they are wrong.

  • From 1978-1996 Australia suffered 13 mass shootings. After the worst of them in 1996 that killed 35 people Australia acted. They initiated a gun buy-back program that took 650,000 guns, especially the most dangerous ones, off the streets. They tightened licensing rules and mandated safe storage of weapons. Since 1996 there has not been a single mass shooting in Australia, and the murder rate by firearms has declined by 40%.
  • Canada has a 28-day waiting period to purchase a gun, and it requires two people to vouch for anyone who purchases a gun. Canada has only ⅓ the number of guns per capita as the U.S. and it has ⅓ the number of deaths per capita by gun violence.

It is a lie, a demonic and evil lie, to say that we cannot reduce gun violence in the U.S. The truth is, we cannot afford not to act. Our children are too precious.
And the darkness can never extinguish the light.

It’s time to be the light. It’s time to act. Today at the lobby of the church we have identical congregational letters to the President, our two senators, and the congressional representative of this district. A copy is included with your bulletin. I am asking you today, in solidarity with the victims of this month’s massacre, not to leave the building until you have signed the letters, or at least until you resolve to write a letter of your own.

If we are truly to honor the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, then today is the day to turn grief into prayer, and prayer into action. This is a call to arms — to reach out the arms of our compassion to past and future victims and dedicate ourselves to bringing light into the darkness of this nation possessed by a demon.Our hope in the end is this light that shines in this dark season. It is the light of Christmas. Maybe Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said it best over 140 years ago in his poem that became a Christmas song:

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet the words repeat

Of peace on earth, good will to men.


And in despair I bowed my head:

“There is no peace on earth,” I said,

“For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.”


Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,

With peace on earth, good will to men.”