Cyneatha Millsaps reflects on how gun violence has effected the country, her community and her own family.
This blog post is part of Mennonite Church USA’s Learn, Pray, Join: End Gun Violence initiative.
Cyneatha Millsaps is the executive director of Mennonite Women USA and the executive director of Goshen College Center for Community Engagement in Goshen, Indiana. Cyneatha has served as pastor in both the Central District Conference and Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference of MC USA. Cyneatha currently is focusing her energy on public education, specifically as it relates to Black/African American students, and leading Mennonite Women USA, as they seek to build an expanding coalition of women throughout the Anabaptist churches.
Dec. 14, 2012, will always stay in my memory. That’s when I became aware of how America was spiritually and emotionally bankrupt. Gun violence was all too common on the news. Everyone seemed to be talking around the same question: Who or what was responsible for this? And what we heard was touted by gun lobbyists and echoed everywhere: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”
I was living in Chicago, where the statistics of people slain by guns were pouring out like sports scores. Forty-three dead this weekend; 14 shot at a family reunion; an innocent child killed in a local park on his way home. The nation assumed that Chicago had become the epicenter of gun violence, but after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, it was obvious other cities, both big and small, throughout America were experiencing gun violence at alarming rates.
Gun violence is at the forefront of our daily lives. It is happening in neighborhoods, schools, family gatherings, places of worship and community concerts, and one thing is clear: We have lost the battle against gun violence in America. Somehow — between the Second Amendment, big-money lobbyists and a silent church — we’ve lost our footing.
It has become apparent that discussing gun violence is not enough to bring about real change. Unless we are willing to make drastic adjustments to government policies on all levels — federal, state and local — gun violence will remain a pervasive problem in our lives.
In the late 90s, non-smoking laws moved across the United States. Smoking became a national issue with second-hand smoke and the negative effects of smoke on those who were not smokers themselves at the forefront, therefore public smoking put others at risk. In the mid-80s New York was the first state to require front seat motorists to wear seat belts for public safety. Similar laws quickly moved across the county, because seat belts protected lives. Why is it so hard for us to act on guns, when they have shown a much higher risk to public safety and loss of life?
I had faith that the Sandy Hook massacre would be the event to spur action from this nation. It did not turn out that way; after a few speeches, protests and weeks of news coverage, it faded into the background, like so many other gun violence stories. It is heartbreaking to realize 26 people lost their lives that day — 20 of whom were children in first and second grade.
It is not permissible that those of us who accept the teachings of Jesus Christ should be as selfish as others in the world. We must offer our voices for Jesus’ way of nonviolence. Christians make up roughly 63% of the population in the U.S. We need to join forces and tackle gun violence, for it has a devastating impact on us all — no matter where we live. It takes away our loved ones, brings lasting trauma and causes premature death.
Gun violence is a product of hate in all its forms, and its effects are irrevocable. Guns are too accessible, and this allows people to act on their hatred for people of diverse backgrounds, of varying wealth, and even themselves. This violence, more than anything, expresses resentment for our Creator.
It tragically happened again on Aug. 1, 2015: My family lost my nephew to gun violence. He was not the intended target of the shooter. He was simply hanging out with friends, when he was hit by a bullet in the chest. The coroner noted that my nephew never even knew what had happened to him. He died instantly from the gunshot.
Careless hate ended Justin’s life and the lives of the young children at Sandy Hook.
If the church is love, then we must do what God has commanded us to do and disarm hate from our midst.
As followers of Jesus in the Anabaptist faith tradition, we are called to seek peace and witness against all forms of violence.
Approximately 118 people per day die by gun violence in the U.S. Gun violence is a complex issue that intersects with poverty, racism, discrimination, criminal justice, education and the environment.
This “Learn, Pray, Join: End Gun Violence” initiative calls us to understand this crisis through the lens of our faith and seek ways to bring God’s hope and healing to our hurting communities, through education, disarming practices, advocacy and standing as a visible witness for peace.
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