Last night, a lone gunman entered a theater in Lafayette, Louisiana and opened fire, killing two and wounding seven before taking his own life. The setting was different, but the scene very much the same. After all, as this map from Vox of mass shootings in the U.S. since Sandy Hook makes clear, this isn’t exactly a rare occurrence anymore:
The reaction yesterday evening was what we’ve come to expect in the wake of such violence. Some people state facts and statistics about gun prevalence, use, and violence. Other people scream out something about the Second Amendment. But perhaps most consistently, people offer up their prayers.
On one hand, this makes sense. Prayer is, once you strip away the fairy tales, a form of self-soothing. It requires you to be still and connect with your emotions, to breathe and address (at least some of) your distorted thinking. There’s a reason faith is embraced as a tool in therapy in many cases. Say what you will about the fictional figures on the receiving end; the act of prayer itself can hold value.
In the face of unspeakable yet seemingly ubiquitous horror, prayer was the answer for many on Thursday. In fact, a good number of people called on those engaging the subject of gun violence to stop their squabbling and bow their heads instead. It was predictable. It was also infuriating.
This is the governor of the state where the mass shooting happened tonight. His most urgent recommendation? Prayer. pic.twitter.com/1w05zBLV2Z
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) July 24, 2015
Don’t get me wrong. I’m always glad when people can find peace. And the idea of keeping someone in pain in your thoughts is lovely.
But those murmured words of prayer are not changing the number of guns in this country or who has access to them. They are not impacting the capability of these weapons, nor are they limiting the number of rounds they can hold. They do not help us to question why the most privileged members of society are the ones most likely to execute an act of mass violence, or why we are so reticent to acknowledge said trend while assigning every brown act of violence to terrorism and every black act of violence to being a thug. They fail to spur real discourse on the urgent need for improved, accessible, and affordable mental health care while there are ten times more people with mental illness living in jail than there are in treatment facilities.
Your prayers may soothe your anxiety, but that’s about all they’re doing. To cavalierly chastise those interested in a debate that might lead to real solutions for not selfishly focusing on internal tension does not make you the voice of reason or a better person. It might make you ignorant of the desperation in our reality. It might make you dangerous in your irresponsible quest to quash substantive discourse. It might make you condescending and insufferable. Anything it might make you, though, is really not a compliment. You are obfuscating an important conversation with a purported solution that has yet to make a dent in the problem, and the stakes are too high to suffer fools gladly any longer.
The time for prayers has passed. Before another body hits the ground, let’s honor those lost with action.