More Than “Thoughts and Prayers”

One week ago we commemorated the first anniversary of the school shooting incident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas H.S. in Parkland, Florida.  Seventeen students at the school were shot and killed on Feb. 14, 2018.


(Photo courtesy of Kathy Broyard, Florida Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Network)

This April will mark twenty years ago since 15 students were killed at Columbine H.S. in Littleton, Colorado in 1999.  Before Columbine, school violence was limited to fights, knife stabbings, and a small number of firearms deaths.  My book on School Crime and Juvenile Justice (1998) had no discussion of school shootings with multiple victims until the 2nd edition came out in 2007.  In the 20 years since its publication more than 325 students between 5 and 18 years of age have been killed in schools.  (Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention, School-Associated Violent Deaths.)



I’m not the first person who’s noted the shocking prevalence of mass shootings in U.S. schools and our failure to pass laws and institute policies to reduce the tragic incidents. Yes, our “thoughts and prayers” are with the families and friends of the victims of school violence.  …but can’t we do more?

Certainly we can do more to reduce gun violence.  But doing background checks and placing restrictions on purchases and ownership of firearms in the U.S. has proven to be a challenge for our lawmakers.  Despite the public support for such measures, lawmakers are reluctant to risk political careers on this difficult issue.  Laws and policies to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of those who might turn them against their own citizens and neighbors has so far evaded us.

Some positive steps are being taken to address what most Americans agree is a national problem.  Church denominations and faith-based organizations are among those addressing the problem.  The Christian Century magazine in 2016 published a series of essays on America’s gun problem.  The publisher of the bi-monthly periodical has since made the collection of articles available for freeThe compilation of five articles addressing gun ownership, the Second Amendment, and America’s long history with guns is intended as a Conversation Guide to get us talking about the problem.

The Presbyterian Church is addressing the problem through educational resources, documentary films, and church-wide initiatives from the national office to individual churches and congregations.  Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has turned its attention from a primary focus on assisting victims of floods and hurricanes to the effects of gun violence.  Unlike weather-related disasters, gun violence can be prevented.

David Barnhart is an award-winning director and producer of several films documenting American problems (immigration, clean water, school violence and more).  His films feature in-depth interviews with people in communities that have faced disasters and human suffering.  Trigger” is a documentary film that examines the disastrous effects of gun violence in America through the eyes and voices of those who have been personally touched by it.

Can we solve the problem of gun violence by sponsoring film viewings and discussion groups around the country?  No.  But it’s a start.  Americans don’t hesitate to tackle problems involving life and death.  Why are gun deaths the exception?  The addition of statistics on “school-associated violent deaths” by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention indicates the importance of this problem.  News of another mass shooting is the first to hit our television screens, all the way to the Oval Office in the White House, where former President Obama expressed his frustration.

The online “PC-USA News” this week featured recognition of the first anniversary of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas H.S. in Parkland, Florida.  Reading it brought my mind to thoughts and prayers for the families and friends of the victims of that tragedy.  But it also is a reminder that working together as responsible citizens we can do more than thoughts and prayers.  We can work together to end gun violence.


Center for Disease Control and Prevention School-associated Deaths

“Trigger” – a film by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

Movie trailer for “Trigger”

The Christian Century: “Can We Talk About Guns?

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