By Norris Burkes
Feb 25, 2018

I opened an email this week from Charleston, South Carolina, that asked, “Please help me make sense of these mass shootings. I am a devout Catholic but it’s so hard to think this was ‘God’s purpose’ for children to die this way.

“Please help me understand. I’m a teacher, so school shootings affect me hard. Thank you, Lisa.”

It’s a question I often get in the wake of national tragedies. To answer it, I will ask folks to define “purpose.” Are they hoping God has some hidden intention that, if we only understood it, will make our heartbreak less hurtful?

Unfortunately, most catastrophes don’t reveal a divine purpose. For instance, when a plane goes down, or a mass shooter infiltrates a school, or a tornado remaps a town, few of us can see a clear expression of celestial design.

If we overthink divine purpose in these tragedies, we only spin ourselves into a circular argument. We must add some practicality to our “thoughts and prayers” and ask, “Where to from here?”

There is good precedence for supplementing the theological approach with a practical method. After 9/11, we had many prayer vigils, but eventually we saw wisdom in relaxing the fourth amendment on reasonable search. Now we fly in safety as we allow TSA officers to pat us down in the most familiar way.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the right to bear arms as expressed in the second amendment. I believe in reasonable arms — not every arm that has and ever will be created.

Therefore, let’s tackle this problem not as a “gun issue,” but as a public safety issue. Let’s reinstate the national ban on the production of the “semi-automatic assault weapon” that expired in 2004. The ban further eliminated the “large capacity ammunition-feeding device.”

After we restore the ban, then we can consider a government buyback of these guns in the way Australia successfully did in 1996.

Once this menace is off our streets, we can debate the reason or folly of such things as: 14-day waiting periods, or 10-round magazine limit, or no bump stocks or universal background checks.

At the end of the day, we must all do our part.

• The press must stop live glorification of these heartbreaking scenes from every imaginable angle. Desist with the ad nauseam coverage that rates the shooter’s effectiveness with past shooters.

• Mental health experts should work harder to screen potential shooters.

• Law enforcement and military must redouble their efforts to check potential shooters.

• Social media has to clean up their hate sites and chat rooms.

• Clergy must preach against the idolatrous worship our society has of violence.

• As Hollywood comes to grips with their violence on women, they must also admit their place in inspiring gun violence.

No, Lisa. Everything doesn’t have a purpose. However, if you’ll help me petition lawmakers to ban these go-to-guns for mass murders, then perhaps we can reconstruct a saving purpose.

Finally, there may be some who will chastise me for drifting outside the purview of a chaplain’s column. For this I beg your understanding — the “thoughts and prayers” approach just wasn’t working for me anymore.