The latest shooting—at a community college in Oregon—may have done what countless others have failed to do: re-ignite our flame of righteous indignation. Remember the movie Network where Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch) gets Americans to shout out their windows “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” ? We should have reached that point when Sandy Hook occurred…and every bloodbath since then. Parents should be in tears that their elementary age children are now used to classroom drills preparing for carnage in their schools. Maybe, just maybe, our nation has reached a tipping point where “there’s nothing we can do” is unacceptable.
But even if we are now heartbroken and enraged, that still begs the question…how best should this issue be engaged? Conservatives claim that more mental health care is needed (but are unwilling to fund that) while liberals advocate gun permit restrictions. Both of those would be useful, and I’d happily vote for both, but I’m skeptical about seeing significant reduction in the slaughter. As long as there are as many lethal weapons as there are people in this country, people willing to kill are likely to have access to the requisite tools for murder. Furthermore, people who lack empathy and are highly aggressive are unlikely to enter the system for mental health care. The problem with killers isn’t being bipolar or having ADHD; the problem is a lack of normal human attachment, and most psychopaths are unnoticed until too late.
Which brings us –surprisingly—to a solution. In a recent article for CNN Doctor Sanjay Gupta writes “The epidemic of gun violence is treatable.” He notes an infectious disease doctor, named Gary Slutkin, who has analyzed homicidal violence by treating it as a spreading illness—and finding a solution in what he calls “interrupters.” Gupta explains, “Interrupters are trained health professionals who act as mediators and go to the epicenter of violent behavior.” As Doctor Slutkin says, “”You’re interrupting the transmission. You’re getting to the places where events are most likely to happen, with the right people who can get there,” said Slutkin. “We’ve demonstrated you can drop violence in neighborhoods, to the point where it would be a very rare event.” To put it in medical terms, these interrupters are a powerful antibiotic, effective in treating a tough infection. In this case, though, the infection is gun violence.”
Reading this article, Jesus’s words flashed into my mind: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” I liked Gupta’s and Slutkin’s ideas, but “interrupters” doesn’t sound very inspiring. “Peacemakers” describes exactly what trained interrupters do—they bring shalom into places of potential violence. It’s unfortunate that “pacifist” and “nonviolence” have so often been used to characterize Christian peace witness. Jesus’s word “peacemakers” is active rather than passive. Peacemakers make a pre-emptive strike for shalom. And it’s not what we’re against (non- violence) it’s about the positive reality we are creating.
We know the Oregon shooter posted his intentions the night before the killing on a social media site—what if there were interrupters on that site, able to intervene? What if schools at all levels hired interrupters to meet and counsel with students who seem withdrawn, lacking in friends? What if (rather than pack heat, as some are recommending) teachers were all trained in skills of increasing empathy between students?
And shouldn’t Jesus’s followers be in the forefront of such a movement? The one we claim to follow has called us to active pursuit of reconciliation. This is what Christians should be known for—this should be our forté!
And as I write this there are words popping into my head from another wisdom teacher. Yes, you may say that I’m a dreamer… but I’m not the only one. What about you? If this dream makes sense to you, why not share it on social media or talk about it with one other person. Who knows? It could become a movement.