Within just a few hours of the tragedy that played out at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, the incident has become fodder for both the anti-gun and pro-gun lobbies. Some have been citing the event as an example of why we need tighter gun control in this country. Others have cited it as an example of why every citizen should carry a weapon with them at all times. It seems that a lot of people see what happened in Colorado as being about guns. But I don’t think it is.
Instead, the shocking events that played out in Aurora are about human beings who have been deeply scarred. All those who were at the theater that night have been damaged spiritually and psychologically by what happened. Many of them also suffered physical damage, and some of them died. While we don’t yet know the motives of the man who chose to inflict this damage, I feel certain that his own story will reveal someone who himself has been deeply disfigured spiritually and psychologically, in order to be able to do what he did. Such disfigurement does not excuse his actions – he remains horribly responsible for the choices he made. Yet, we should be reminded at how deeply people in our society can become disconnected from their true self, and out of that state of alienation from self, lash out at the world around them.
It saddens me that what happened in Aurora is so quickly becoming a political talking point in the unending conversation in this country about gun control. It would be better, I think, if the tragedy led us into less political speech and more reflection on the fragility of human life. This tragedy should become an opportunity not to display how politically polarized our society is, but rather to stand in silence before the mystery of our own humanity and to recognize the deep brokenness that is a part of us. For some among us, that brokenness is so substantial that it constitutes a sort of fracturing of the soul – and such a soul is capable of inflicting enormous damage. No, this tragedy is not about guns, but about the ways in which we all need to be healed.
Let us be quiet for a time. Let us give room for the victims and families to grieve the damage that has been caused. Let us grieve with them. Let us also grieve for a man who was so damaged that he decided to inflict his pain on innocent others. Let us ask ourselves how we can contribute not only to our own healing, but to the healing of others in our community. Let us not dishonor what has happened by turning it into another talking point in a polarizing political debate. It’s not about the guns…it’s about human community, and what happens when that community, and those who belong to it, are fractured. It’s about how we are to find healing in the wake of this violence. And that, ultimately, is not about the hardware we do or do not carry with us, but about the software of our souls. It is, in the end, an urgent spiritual matter that can only be addressed with authentic spiritual work.