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Thistlethwaite: Sick of school shootings? Pray with your vote

I think God despises the “thoughts and prayers” rote responses to gun massacres by politicians who get donations because of their efforts to block common sense gun legislation such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

As a pastor, I could write a liturgy of lament with these school names: Oxford High School, Santa Fe High School, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Umpqua Community College, Marysville-Pilchuck High School, University of California, Santa Barbara, Sandy Hook Elementary, Oikos University, Northern Illinois University, Virginia Tech, West Nickel Mines Amish School, Red Lake High School, and Columbine High School.

But I won’t. Instead, I advocate for the “praying with their feet” (Rabbi Abraham Heschel) of the activists I have met through volunteering for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense here in Colorado. Some had children at Columbine during that mass shooting in 1999, when two students killed 12 of their peers and a teacher.

They and many others show up again and again, and advocate when the Colorado legislature is in session, pushing common sense gun legislation that is sorely needed around the country.

We’re making progress here in Colorado. It’s not enough, and there are loopholes that are exploited.

Schools are not the only locations of mass shootings. On March 22, 2021, in Boulder, a young man from a nearby town entered a King Soopers armed with an assault pistol with a large capacity magazine, shooting and killing 10.

As a result of the Aurora Theater Mass Shooting of 2012, Colorado had enacted a ban on large capacity magazines, but the Boulder shooter was armed with 10 magazines over the 15-round limit.

Some gun stores continue to break the 2013 law by selling these magazines, sometimes by breaking them up and saying they are kits (Colorado’s Attorney General has indicated such a practice is illegal). Nevertheless, the Boulder District Attorney could not find that the magazines were illegally obtained, although he did note it was illegal for the shooter to possess them.

Clearly education is needed about the laws we already have and there is a new Office of Gun Violence Prevention established in Colorado, that has increasing public awareness as one of its briefs.

Family members of the shooter had observed their relative’s paranoid and antisocial behaviors and had even at one time taken his gun from him when he was “playing with it,” but reportedly did not know about Colorado’s 2019 Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO or “red flag”) law, which enables family and law enforcement to remove access to firearms for someone dangerous to self or others.

Colorado schools are increasing security, and of course they should. But what about movie theaters, food stores, concerts, night clubs and other locations where mass shootings have occurred?

Increasing security for schools is at best a temporary measure, but that is not a solution. Arming teachers is ridiculous and should not even be considered.

What stops mass shootings is common sense gun legislation, an educated public, and widespread mental health services.

For us as a state and a country to stop the shootings, we must vote for people who will pass this kind of legislation.

I’m praying with my feet this year and getting to the polls.

Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is president emerita and professor emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.

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