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Michigan State, Guns, Facts, Thoughts, and Prayers

AP Photo/Al Goldis

America's hearts ache for the Michigan State community following last evening's horrifying shooting spree in East Lansing, which left multiple students dead or maimed.  We think especially of the victims, of their loved ones and friends, and of the senior class -- whose early collegiate experience was interrupted by the pandemic, then by pandemic-driven policies, and who will now have memories of a far more 'normal' final year marred by this horrific stain.  When atrocities like this happen, it's human nature to picture oneself in the shoes of those affected.  It's how we empathize.  Personally, as a proud alumnus of the Big Ten conference, I've visited MSU on several occasions.  I've shared beers with some of their sports fans.  I've walked parts of the sprawling campus.  It's painful to think about that enclave being rocked by senseless violence, which has snuffed out promising young lives and dreams.  It's enraging, actually.  It's all so unfair.  It's profoundly wrong.  


It's also nearly impossible not to think back to one's experiences in high school or college, imagining how living through such an ordeal might have shaped one's own perspective and worldview moving forward.  With grieving minds reeling, sometimes the only thing one can do is take a quiet moment of meditative reflection and pray for those affected.  Of course, keeping victims in our collective thoughts and prayers has been twisted into a bitter punchline, as advocates for gun control reflexively lash out at 'thoughts and prayers' as a trite and unacceptable substitute for action.  One some level, I understand the impulse to reject what might sound to some like an empty cliche.  But thinking about the afflicted is an act of caring.  Prayer is something that millions of Americans believe in, very powerfully.  To ridicule and refuse these human acts of compassion from fellow human beings, most of them total strangers, is ugly and divisive -- even amid the shock and anger.  This statement from a Michigan state representative, prepared and approved by a series of adult 'leaders,' is appalling (language warning):

Less aggressively insulting and profane was this sentiment from a Michigan Congresswoman:


Respectfully, who among us does not care about protecting kids from deadly violence?  I understand that each political tribe can point to anti-child harms supported or tolerated by the other tribe for ideological reasons.  But the accusation itself -- you don't care about the well being of children -- proves the universality of the underlying value.  Nearly every member of our society cares about children, and we are unanimously appalled when young lives are stolen.  Many of us are willing to have difficult conversations, as I've tried to model on occasion, sometimes to the chagrin of some members of my ideological 'team.'  But our culture gets torn further apart when tribal animus instantaneously overtakes solidarity and empathy.  When partisan combatants rush to battle stations with memorized talking points, predictable counter-points, and inevitable counter-counter-points, what do we achieve, besides loathing each other more?  Young Americans lie dead today.  Others are fighting for survival.  We're all feeling raw, numb, and upset.

From a political action perspective, I don't pretend to know all the particulars of Michigan law, and what could or could not have realistically helped prevent this bloodshed.  Details remain incomplete, but it's my understanding that the now-deceased assailant was a convicted criminal who'd previously violated gun laws.  The 43-year-old suspect, who reportedly had a history of mental health issues and whose name I won't mention, somehow got his hands on another gun -- a handgun -- and violated university 'gun-free' zone policies (designed to create a "sanctuary," to borrow the Congresswoman's phrase) to slaughter defenseless innocents.  A number of the usual demands and indictments we hear in the aftermath of these horrors -- white supremacy, 'weapons of war,' etc. -- don't appear to apply here.  I'm open to listening to arguments about how certain laws might have stopped what happened at Michigan State, but it seems as though the killings were perpetrated by a demented criminal who once again ignored the law and used an extremely common firearm to inflict his terror.  Any motive, or even a connection to the school, remains a mystery, as of this writing.


Observing that additional laws might not be the answer, and opposing the uprooting of a bedrock constitutional right (people are welcome to try to repeal the Second Amendment and attempt to confiscate countless millions of guns from law-abiding citizens if they'd like) simply does not equate to callousness or a lack of caring.  Framing things in that profoundly uncharitable and otherizing way rips at the human ties that should bind us together.  So let's have conversations.  Let's make them respectful and realistic.  Let's recognize that in many cases, regulations and laws cannot stop violent mental illness or outright evil.  Let's try to love each other (or at least not devolve into knee-jerk hatred), sympathize with the families of the victims, and yes, pray for healing.  I'll leave you with this, as a gesture of solidarity with mourning Spartans everywhere -- go green, go white:

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