During Sunday worship, a violent atheist gunned down 26 Christians in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Among the victims were women and small children.
Many celebrity liberals took this appalling occasion to mock the victims’ belief in prayer. It makes you wonder just who in this country are supposed to be the deplorable ones.
As news of this mass murder broke, House Speaker Paul Ryan took to Twitter to ask his followers to pray for the victims. Actor and left-wing activist Wil Wheaton quickly snapped back: “The murdered victims were in a church. If prayers did anything, they’d still be alive, you worthless sack of shit.”
Keith Olbermann at least put it a bit more tastefully in rebuking President Trump: “‘Thoughts and prayers’ again, @realDonaldTrump, idiot?” he tweeted. “These people were in CHURCH. They WERE praying.”
These and hundreds of similar messages were not meant merely or even primarily as rebukes to politicians who asked for prayers. Rather, to everyone who relies upon or believes in prayer, they sent a message much like the one the killer himself liked to share online with anyone who would listen.
Prayer is of no avail. It is for stupid people. Just look at those people who were killed during church! Where is their God now?
To some nonbelievers, it is upsetting to see rational people respond to tragedy with invocations that these onlookers think are empty. At the very least, they do not believe prayer to be effective.
Perhaps it would surprise those nonbelievers to hear that the people whom they seem increasingly to scorn, those who believe in the power of prayer but not that of gun control, can commiserate with them in their frustration. For no one has flailed about as uselessly or invoked so many false gods in the aftermath of each tragic shooting as the gun control activists themselves.
We are as accustomed to their empty ritual as they are to what they see as empty prayer. Each time there is a mass shooting, they vent and propose solutions that cannot improve the problem, not even in theory, let alone in practice. Their first reaction to each shooting is usually to call on the holy name of a so-called assault weapons ban, a proposal that was already tried and proven a failure in the 1990s. The assault weapons ban restricts a few types of rifles based on their cosmetic features. But rifles, of course, are used in less than one half of 1 percent of all U.S. murders each year, according to the FBI, whereas more than 90 percent are killed with handguns. The obsession with rifles is thus a powerful testament to the devotion of people who may not believe in God, but believe that the harassment of rifle-owners can produce magical effects on society.
The other go-to “solution” has traditionally been the call to strengthen background checks for gun buyers. Once again, we see faith-based thinking in action. The background check system fails again and again to keep legally disqualified persons from buying guns. This is precisely what happened in Sunday’s shooting, and the church shooting in Charleston, S.C., and the terrorist killing in San Bernardino, Calif., among many others. Yet, thanks to the power of belief, we go back again and again to the easy answer of “closing loopholes” when the entire system is nothing but one big loophole.
We welcome the idea of discussing rational and possible measures to mitigate gun violence. We have discussed one gun proposal in particular that would prevent at least some mass shootings, in addition to some specific changes to how mental health is delivered in America. But there are more than 300 million privately owned firearms in America, and these are not going to go away. Some people advocate the confiscation or government purchase of these weapons, which at least has the merit of working in theory, even if it could not be put into practice. It could not be put into practice, because the Constitution protects the right to bear arms. The government does not have the authority to take citizens weapons away.
Gun rights are not going to be stripped out of the Constitution, and the search for a reduction in mass murders has to start from that fact.
Every rational discussion about gun violence must begin with an understanding that there is no quick-fix, snake-oil solution by which one can appreciably improve public safety by banning the sale of some subset of guns, or even banning all gun sales.
Until gun control advocates face facts, they're hardly in a position to condescend to those who turn to prayer instead. After all, prayer has at least a chance of working.