We are approaching the sixth anniversary (April 16) of the Virginia Tech massacre in which 32 people died at the hands of a mentally ill student. On Saturday night, our congregation co-sponsored the screening of Living for 32, a documentary about one of the survivors of the Virginia Tech massacre, Colin Goddard. I attended the screening and conversation with Colin Goddard at Morristown Unitarian Fellowship with many members of both congregations, members of the UU Legislative Ministry of New Jersey, and other NJ gun violence prevention groups. There were also several members of the local police force who attended.
Colin Goddard was shot four times. Out of the 17 students in his French class, which he was attending that morning, only seven students survived. Consequently, Virginia Tech and other universities and colleges have had to make significant changes to their policies and procedures to insure the safety of their students. In fact, there will soon be an index (called The 32 Index) which will rate universities and colleges on their safety procedures. In all 32 people died at Virginia Tech. In America, 32 people die every day due to gun-related homicides. The homicide rate in the U.S. is 6.9 times higher than 22 other high-income, high population countries, combined. It doesn’t count accidental or suicide deaths related to guns.
Colin Goddard added: “Yet, there’s no change on federal gun legislation. Why?” Goddard advocated for universal background checks as a responsible change that greatly reduces the number of deaths of each year. He also stated that there is increasing public and bipartisan support, as well as a growing number of NRA members who are in favor of universal background checks because they believe in responsible gun ownership.
Colin Goddard now works with the Brady Campaign to advocate for federal action. He stated that April is a critical month for gun violence prevention and asked everyone to do one thing per week to help end gun violence. Today the Brady Campaign is sponsoring an Interfaith Call-In Day to prevent gun violence. They are asking people of faith to call their senators to advocate for universal background checks, an important component of current legislation being debated on the floor. We urge our members and friends to call their senators today. Regardless of where your senator is on the issue, it’s important to let them know where you stand on gun violence.
If the bill passes the Senate, it will encounter a tough debate in the House of Representatives. Goddard stated that we should call our representatives and advocate that they simply allow the vote to occur. By voting, each representative must take a stand – something they too often avoid by not allowing a vote to occur.
On Saturday I learned about other organizations that are doing compelling work on changing our country’s culture around violence. The Center to Prevent Youth Violence has an ASK (Asking Saves Kids) program that teaches parents how to ask whether or not there is a gun where their child is playing. Ceasefire Chicago (now Cure Violence) treats gun violence as a public health problem. They detect and interrupt potentially violent events; determine who are most likely to cause another violent event which would increase violence; and change the underlying social and behavioral norms, or environmental conditions that directly relate to violence.
These are great organizations doing compelling work. Nonetheless when I think about how many different organizations must be created and how much energy must go into combating this problem instead of enacting responsible federal and local legislation, it seems like we have our priorities backwards. It’s time for all of us to make gun violence prevention a priority. For the 32 who died at Virginia Tech. For the victims and members of the shooting at the Tennessee Valley UU Church. For the families from Newtown, CT who head to DC today to share their grief. And for all of us, to insure that gun violence doesn’t visit our doorstep.