Reviewing Common Ground: Talking about Gun Violence in America, by Donald V. Gaffney, Pastor and Sandy Hook Alumnus (WJK Press, 2018)
A quiet, sunny March afternoon in 1956 was shattered by pounding at the front door of my country parsonage. “Pastor! Hurry! Jim just shot himself!” With three or four teens who had come with the news, I rushed across the street to the township school where they and a dozen others were getting ready to rehearse the class play.
No teachers or other adults were there, but sixteen-year-old Jim was, stretched out on his back on the gym floor, the gun near his side, and a trail of gray brain tissue extending from a hole in the side of his head.
He had been the last one to arrive. Half-skipping into the gym, swinging a revolver in his hand, he had called out “Look, Russian roulette,” put the gun to his temple and pulled the trigger.
In this rural Indiana village where I, a twenty-four-year-old seminary student served as pastor, most people knew about guns. They were used to hunt game for sport and for the family table, get rid of varmints, start the butchering process, and give people the feeling of safety in their isolated homesteads out in the country. I was one of the few people who didn’t know anything about guns. In my childhood home there had been no guns. Although we never talked about firearms, it was clear that our family was against them.
None of us at the school that afternoon knew how the student had gotten hold of the gun and why he had acted in such a foolish way. Other townspeople were also puzzled. They knew how dangerous guns were and treated them with respect. Together, we grieved at the senseless death of this teenager from one of the best-known families in that part of the county.
Sixty-five years later I still know next to nothing about guns and the gun culture that has developed in our country. While I acknowledge the legitimacy of gun possession and use, at least in ways rooted in country life long ago, I am baffled by the use of guns as what seems to be the first resort to express anger and assert power, especially among urban teenagers. Virtually every morning of the week the local news leads off with reports of shootings, usually fatal, the night before. People decry what has happened and passionately declare that something has to be done. And then, random, half-hearted actions, and the trend toward violence continues on its upward track. Read more. . . . Guns in America