No Safe Spaces: My Faith Demands We Face the Facts About Gun Violence
May 25, 2022
Yesterday we watched in horror again as an armed gunmen walked into an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and murdered 19 children and 2 adults. Just two weeks ago, another armed man massacred 10 people in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York. And yet these are only two of countless mass-shootings this year, occurrences that are only common in one country in the world: ours.
Two months ago, I received a notification from my youngest son’s school that their campus had been put on a full lockdown. A mentally unstable man with a gun was near the school premises, and the police were working on deescalating the situation with him. That day my son’s kindergarten class spent four hours in lockdown mode, which meant that they sat in their “safe” area, a closet with cubbies for their backpacks and coats that ended with a small bathroom. For the first two hours of lockdown, they sat in the dark.
“My friend was scared that someone was going to kill us,” my son said to me later. “But I wasn’t afraid of the dark.” On that day, I was heartbroken for his loss of innocence, and immensely grateful for a teacher who made him feel safe.
There are no safe spaces left in America. Not in our schools or grocery stores, not in our places of faith, not in our workplaces, not in theaters and music venues. There is no place in America that is safe from the reality that someday, a person armed with a weapon of mass destruction — that they can legally buy easier than baby formula — may decide to enter our safe spaces with every intention of killing us and our babies. For those of us who are not white, that possibility is even more imminent.
The men are not OK.
There are some stark truths about these acts of violence that we must confront:
- The majority of mass shootings in America are carried by men. One survey of mass shootings in America since 1982 shows that 122 acts of mass violence, defined as a shooting in a public place with four or more victims, were carried out by men. Of those incidents, more than half were carried out by white men. Female perpetrators were responsible for three. (I know that someone would want to know this piece of data too).
The men are not OK. But let’s keep looking at the data.
- A 12-year survey conducted by Everytown, a movement focused on tackling gun violence in America, showed that nearly all mass shootings between 2009 and 2020 were carried out by a male perpetrator. Additionally, two trends that show up in the many screeds and social media declarations left by these perpetrators is their alignment with far right extremism and their shared hatred of women. This radicalization of men begins in the “manosphere” – a collection of online communities focused on advocating for “men’s rights.” A path from “men’s rights” moves forward from the manosphere quickly into a world of replacement theory and deep misogyny. In this world, everyone is a threat to the male rights of white men – Jews, Blacks, Muslims, immigrants, and of course, women. White women are OK as long they agree to fulfill their main purpose: having white babies with white men.
Domestic violence and mass-shootings are connected.
- According to a research study published by The Educational Fund To Stop Gun Violence, more than two-thirds of mass shootings are domestic violence incidents or are carried out by shooters with a history of domestic violence. Yesterday, the 18-year-old shooter in Uvalde shot his grandmother before going on to kill 18 elementary aged children. Ten years ago, the shooter who killed 27 innocent students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School first shot and killed his mother in her home. Mass shootings are not random; they are part of a cycle of violence that begins with violence against intimate partners and family members.
- According to statistics shared by Everytown, in at least 71 mass shootings over the past 12 years, the shooter has a history of perpetrating domestic violence. Additionally, in 56 of those mass-shootings, the violence started with the murder of a family member or intimate partner at home before moving into a public space. While we are shocked when news of senseless mass violence hits our Twitter feeds and TV screens, the reality is that 79% of domestic violence related shootings happen in homes and the news of that carnage does not reach us.
Action is needed with thoughts & prayers.
This is not just a mental health problem. This not just a building security problem. This is not just a male problem. This is not just a gun problem. We have become a country that accepts the massacres as a regular reality of our communal life. This is not a problem that will be solved in partisan echo chambers. The Democrats and Republicans who have been voted into their offices by their communities need to come to the table with common sense gun laws that will provide real safety to the citizens of this country. We have become complacent in our polarization – valuing positions, donations, and election wins over life. It is time to stop rattling out talking points or sending out actionless thoughts and prayers.
The holy text of my Muslim faith, the Quran, says “You who believe, uphold justice and bear witness to God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your kinsmen.” This is a time to bear witness to our shortfalls and respond with action. This is a time for bold and broad cultural change that will require all of us to be a bit more humble, creative, and courageous. Our children are waiting and watching for us to transform our prayers into action. Their lives depend on it.
Jenan Mohajir is Senior Director of Special Projects at Interfaith America.