Lessons must be learned from Christchurch
The mass murder of parishioners at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, is both a tragedy for victims and their families who were mercilessly attacked by the self-avowed "white power" shooter, and demonstrates the need to fight white supremacist terrorism globally. We need effective gun control laws from Salem to Washington, D.C., to Christchurch, half a world away.
What then must we do? This requires asking fundamental questions.
First, are elders and seniors who are regular churchgoers — from Charleston's African American church to Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue, and now to the two mosques in Christchurch — "inviting soft targets" for those men who have a cache of assault rifles, high capacity magazines and white supremacy ideology? Elders and seniors who are churchgoers appear to be both "soft targets" and folks who believe in hopeful values like community, volunteering and love.
Second, some national commentators insist a fair-to-middling "solution" is twofold: better mental health practices and services, and more regulation of hate speech on the Internet's so-called "dark web." Good ideas, but good ideas that miss the point.
As soon as 50 people were killed at two Christchurch mosques, Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand prime minister, was adamant that what her country needs — and will legalize now — are stringent, specific gun control laws.
Et tu, Donald Trump?
In Salem and in Washington, D.C., what we need is a ban on assault weapons and on high caliber magazines. If we think about the mechanics of active shooter mass murders (the Las Vegas massacre, the Pulse nightclub massacre in Florida, Parkland, Sandy Hook, Columbine ... along with the church, mosque and synagogue shootings) none of these events could have been accomplished with a knife, a bow and arrow, or simple hand-to-hand combat.
There is no rational reason for people to have AR-15 assault rifles or high capacity magazines. These are military weapons, unsuitable for rabbit hunting, boar hunting, any sort of "recreational" hunting, or for home protection.
Yet, Donald Trump's single largest corporate donation in the 2016 campaign was $30 million from Ollie North's NRA, the National Rifle Association. Trump's real "wall" isn't about the border with Mexico. Trump's real wall is to block effective gun control in Congress. Among industrialized countries, only Estados Unidos has this preventable problem of mass shootings, time and time again.
The mass murderer in New Zealand did write up a 74-page "manifesto" that cited, among others, Dylan Roof, who killed African American church members in Charleston, as a model or precursor for attacking and killing vulnerable elder parishioners who are deemed "non-white." This mantra of hate targets black folks, Muslims, Jews and many others not in the "white" iconography.
Most disappointing (if not unexpected) has been the inconsistency of Donald Trump's fomenting hatred, day in and day out, of "the Other" (Mexicans, Muslims, journalists, judges, "sick" Democrats, 53 "bad" countries and even John McCain), while Trump equivocates. When neo-Nazis and David Duke of the KKK marched in Charlottesville chanting "the Jews will not replace us," Trump's response was to say that there were "very fine people on both sides, on both sides."
No: Heather Heyer was an anti-racist activist, not a KKK member!
When asked about white supremacy re the New Zealand racist mass murder, Trump simply downplayed white nationalism and whether it constitutes a global terrorist threat. "I don't see it," Trump says, "they are a small group."
Here in Oregon, our state Legislature has bills before it now to ban assault weapons and ban high capacity magazines. With a supermajority by Oregon Democrats, both proposals may finally pass. The NRA, of course, has a history of challenging in the courts such new laws.
In another western state, Arizona, Mark Giffords, former astronaut and spouse of mass murder survivor Gabi Giffords, is running for U.S. Senate in 2020. Like Nevada and New Mexico, Arizona is becoming a competitive state in elections, not just a "red state" bastion automatically supporting conservative GOP candidates.
Congress, as we know, is another kettle of fish. Congress will near-unanimously pass anti-hate resolutions, but not pass sensible gun safety laws. The Brady Campaign, Moms Demand Action, Gabi and Mark Giffords, Sandy Hook Promise and their allies so far have not devised a strategy to counter NRA dominance. New Zealand, under prime minister Jacinda Ardern, is now taking this important step.
The future is at stake for elders and seniors here in the Northwest and globally. Elder churchgoers need to pray and practice their faith in safety, and not be viewed as "collateral damage" through the lens of Second Amendment idolatry.
For the future, for young and old alike, our public spaces need to be safe for use by folks in our communities. Too often, the "future" is cut short by men with guns. Public officials and leaders — from John Kennedy to Dr. King, from Abe Lincoln to Gandhi to Harvey Milk — have been assassinated via gun violence.
Gabi Giffords did survive the mass shooting at her Arizona campaign event, but many attendees, including a judge, were murdered on that day.
Another public servant whose life was cut short at age 42 in Los Angeles, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, in the midst of his 1968 presidential campaign, once remarked that in a violent society featuring too much hatred, we in our communities bear a responsibility to heed the words of Aeschylus, "to make gentler the life of the world."
Lew Church is Coordinator of Portland Gray Panthers
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