A memorial in Uvalde, TX honors the victims lives of the May 24, 2022, shooting.

Uvalde, TX Shooting Memorial/Courtesy Sun Sentinel

Source: Sun-Sentinel | Published: June 23, 2022 | Author: Rev. Leslie J. Hague

On May 24, 2022, a mass shooting by a killer armed with an AR-15-style assault weapon he bought three days after his 18th birthday claimed the lives of 19 third- and fourth-graders and two of their teachers. The killer also destroyed the innocence of the children who survived. I am haunted by the account of a 10-year-old girl who slid a cell phone out of her dead teacher’s pocket to call 911, then covered herself in the blood of her murdered friend so she could play dead in case the killer came back for her.

In the wake of this tragedy, I can firmly say as a faith leader: Thoughts and prayers are not enough. Teaching children what to do if someone with a weapon of war comes into their classroom is not enough. Asking teachers to risk their lives so we can have unrestricted access to guns is not enough.

After 20 first-graders were killed in Sandy Hook by a 20-year-old armed with an assault weapon, many Americans committed to ensuring this never happens again. We sought common-sense gun safety laws involving universal background checks, waiting periods and restrictions on ownership of assault weapons that serve only one purpose — to kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible.

None of those things happened. Gun laws became even laxer, allowing for concealed carry and — in many places — open carry with no permit needed. In fact, in Texas, gun laws allow anyone 18 and older to buy long guns, including the weapon used by the shooter in Uvalde.

What did change after Sandy Hook was that active shooter drills became standard practice in schools. Students are taught to hide under their desks and be completely still and silent. Teachers are taught how to move their students away from classroom doors, which they are to keep closed and locked throughout the school day. Studies have shown that active shooter drills themselves impact the development and mental health of students. Yet, instead of enacting common-sense gun safety laws, we ask children to grow up before their time, teaching them to think like adults.

This reminds me of a particular story told in the Gospels about Jesus and children. When parents brought children to Jesus, the disciples turned them away. Jesus, however, scolded the disciples saying, “Let the children come to me; do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

Jesus loved the little children, and we learn from that story that children should rejoice in curiosity, learning and innocence. Do we love them so little that we will sacrifice their innocence and even their lives because adults are lacking the political will to make laws that will help to curb the epidemic of gun violence?

Click here to read the article on the Sun-Sentinel website.