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Of Guns and Prayer

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As we approach the tenth anniversary of that horrible day at Columbine High School it is appropriate to revisit some of the issues that were brought to the forefront of our national agenda as a result of those senseless shootings perpetrated by two students at the school.  An email relaying Darrell Scott’s testimony before a House subcommittee shortly after those shootings is once again making the rounds.  As a parent of one of the students who was killed that day, he gave a passionate voice to those who support prayer in school and little or no control over guns and sees a connection between the events of that day and how our government has dealt with those two issues.

In the aforementioned email the prologue to the transcript of Mr. Scott’s speech insinuates that he was the only one asked to speak; he was one of eight.  It also says that his speech was not received well and surprised those listening.  His statement wasn’t received any differently than any of the others.  It states that it was a special session of Congress; it was not.  What he did was give was an impassioned speech as a justifiably angry and hurt parent whose child was brutally and wrongfully taken from him in the horrible massacre that was Columbine.  While moving, the speech begs for a rebuttal from those of us who see things very differently.  It is important for our national dialogue and appropriate, therefore, to offer up a contrasting view on these important issues.

The email opens by boldly stating that “There is no doubt that God sent this man as a voice crying in the wilderness.”

How easy it is to suppose that God speaks for your side.  Does God really oppose gun control and favor school-led prayer?  Doesn’t the Bible say that prayer is a deeply personal matter not to be done in the public square for all to see?  There were others involved in that horrific day who support sensible gun control. 

Patti Nielson, for example, acknowledged many societal factors could have contributed, but 15 lives wouldn't have been lost, she said, if the pair didn't have guns.

"And the shocking thing”, she said, “is that they got those guns so easily from a gun show."

Mr. Scott used the cliché “guns don’t kill, people do” defense to justify his position that gun control is needless.  Using that logic we can say that it is not cars that kill, people do.  Yet, we have far more restrictions and controls over our cars than we do our guns.  Aren’t guns more dangerous than cars?

He was very concerned that people were blaming the National Rifle Association (NRA) for the tragedy.  He felt that the blame should lie squarely on the shoulders of Congress for making prayer in school illegal.  In a prayer he wrote he says, “You’ve outlawed simple prayer, now gunshots fill our classrooms.”  How the heck do you make the leap from no prayer to gunshots in classrooms?  Besides, only school-led prayer is not allowed.  Private prayer is always allowed and guaranteed by the Constitution.

He goes on to say that we don’t need gun control, we need God.  Yes, we do need God, but that is certainly not the job of the government.  It is every parent’s responsibility to teach their children the level of spirituality and/or religion they see fit.

I agree with Mr. Scott’s statements that, “We all consist of body, mind, and spirit.  When we refuse to acknowledge a third part of our make-up, we create a void that allows evil, prejudice, and hatred to rush in and wreak havoc.”  That’s some pretty good stuff, but he goes on to say that because we don’t have prayer in school, “We have refused to honor God, and in so doing, we open the doors to hatred and violence.”

Our nation enjoys a large and diverse spirituality where the freedom to practice religion, or not, is thriving.  It is our government, by way of our Constitution, that does not endorse or deny the practice of any particular religion, and personally, I like it that way.  I absolutely don’t want our government teaching my child religion, that’s my job and my church’s job.  If you perceive that as refusing to honor God and “…opening the door to hatred and violence” as this man does, then I think that you’ve become part of the very hatred and violence that you claim to abhor.  It is such a cynical view of the world.  Put this hatred behind you so you can see all the beautiful acts of faith and spirituality that occur all around us on a daily basis.

He further states, “No amount of gun laws can stop someone who spends months planning this type of massacre. The real villain lies within our own hearts.”  There’s certainly some truth to that, but, any security expert will tell you that the harder you make it for someone to break into your house the less likely it is that someone will break into your house.  Likewise, the harder you make it for those who shouldn’t have guns to get guns the less likely it is that they will get guns.  Will you ever be able to completely eliminate such illegal activity?  Of course not.  But if having sensible gun laws prevents even one needless death, then it is worth it.  Sensible laws and parental involvement is what can prevent future Columbines from happening.

He stated that on that day school prayer was brought back to our schools by the kids trapped by the gunmen.  It’s certainly understandable that anyone in that position would pray, but he once again claimed that politicians would try to prevent that from happening.  Please don't perpetuate this myth, only school-led prayer is not allowed.  The Houston Independent School District has children from every country in the world and they practice every religion in the world.  Whose God would they pray to and which prayer would they recite if school-led prayer were allowed?

In his speech, Mr. Scott seemed so concerned about the NRA being the scapegoat for gun violence in schools.  There certainly was some finger pointing but it may have been well deserved.  However, since the Virginia Tech shootings the NRA has been quietly supportive of efforts in Congress to tighten loopholes on instant background checks.

Similarly, closing the gun show loophole that allows anyone to buy guns from an unlicensed gun dealer at a gun show would provide much needed help in preventing those who shouldn’t have guns from getting them.

While I have tremendous respect for Mr. Scott, his unwanted place in history gives him a special voice to which we should all listen, but I believe he is misguided.   The lack of school-led prayer in the schools has nothing to do with the perceived rise in gun violence in schools and the imposition of school-led prayer will not make violence go away.  Let’s look instead at the amount of graphic violence that our kids are exposed to on a daily basis through television programs and video games that desensitize them to violence.  The responsibility lies with us, the parents, to be closely involved with our children’s lives and to let them know that they are loved unconditionally every chance we can.  We have to keep any guns we own carefully locked up.  Finally, we have to teach kids that violence is never the answer in resolving hurt feelings or conflicts.

The subcommittee hearing at which Mr. Scott spoke was covered by the Associated Press and reported in several big-city newspapers, an unusually large amount of coverage for a House subcommittee hearing.  It was not at all ignored as some have stated.  As we mark the tenth anniversary of this dark day in American history I suspect it will once again get some well deserved attention as should the opinion of others who were there.

The email closed by encouraging you to send it to everyone you can.  I concur, since I originally drafted this letter two more mass shootings have occurred.  But, please send out a more complete version that expresses both sides of the gun control and school prayer issues.

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A graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo with an MBA in 1980, John went into the banking business from 1981-1991. John went into the gymnastics business with his wife, with whom he has two children, in 1992 and grew it enough (more...)

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