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We’ve suffered so many mass shootings, they don’t shock us. We’ve become inoculated. We should sit in lament and then rise up in protest, but since time and again nothing changes, we take them in stride.

Because of that, I wonder if we paid that much attention to the mass shooting that happened a few weeks ago in Kansas City at their Super Bowl victory parade.

Did you realize it was unique?

Although many people were shot, this shooting was different from the horrors of Sandy Hook Elementary School, Aurora’s movie theater, El Paso’s Walmart, Christchurch’s mosques, Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, Charleston’s Emmanuel AME Church—and so many others.

At the Kansas City parade, a gunman was not trying to terrorize anyone. The mass shooting unfolded because people got into an argument and someone drew a gun. Other guns were drawn in response. Shooting started, and a bystander is dead, two dozen others wounded, and thousands traumatized.

Why does that distinction matter? Because we’ve been told by gun-rights advocates that the way to prevent mass shootings is to arm everyone. Well, this is what it looks like when lots of people are armed to the teeth.

Welcome to the Wild West.

When I was a child, I had a Roy Rogers gun belt and cap gun pistol. I watched The Lone Ranger and Bonanza and Gunsmoke. I wanted to be a gun-totin’ cowboy.

I don’t want that anymore. The thought of an armed citizenry scares me. Who wants to live in a society where you take your life into your hands by celebrating your football team’s big win?

When I was a child, it was easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys. It was a matter of the color of someone’s hat: white or black. What color were the hats of the shooters in Kansas City? In a world where everyone does what is right in their own eyes, everyone imagines themselves wearing a white hat. It isn’t so.

I wish those who advocate having an armed citizenry were forced to pay the cost of the Kansas City shooting. Begin with the incalculable cost of a lost life. Add to that the medical bills of the other shooting victims. Add in the law enforcement and legal costs of apprehending and prosecuting the shooters. And then put a cost on the psychological toll upon those who were nearby and fled for their lives. Trauma, after all, isn’t only the horrific thing that happened. Trauma is the impact the horrific event has on a survivor’s psyche. Studies show that the stress hormones released during a traumatic event can change the structure of the human brain.

People don’t just get over trauma.

One of the points I keep returning to in my recent book Telling Stories in the DarkIs that you cannot recover from trauma or any experience of loss by pretending it didn’t happen. Anything you bury alive will eventually rise up and reappear in unhelpful ways. The late author Frederick Buechner draws a parallel to the third servant in Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25—the servant who buried his talent out of fear and wound up being cast out into the outer darkness of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Buechner reinterprets that well-known story to raise a far deeper question. He asks: What if pain is the “talent” we’re given? Burying pain, Buechner writes, may be a short-term survival strategy, but it is no way to live and grow. The much more difficult—but in the long run healthier and life-affirming move—is to somehow become a steward of your pain. Stewards of pain don’t deny or bury it. They take it in, let it become their teacher, and eventually are able to use the pain in redemptive ways.

A quote from Father Richard Rohr is another of the threads that holds Telling Stories in the Dark together: “If we do not transform our pain, we will surely transmit it.” We’ve seen that truth played out in our families, our neighborhoods, and in communities around the world. We know that pain begets pain, and that hurt people hurt people.

So, consider:

What will happen with the pain that was transmitted in Kansas City?  Will the traumatized children grow up to traumatize others?

What does it look like to dedicate ourselves to transforming pain instead?

Can we find ways of stopping the cycle of pain-transmission?

Can we form communities that hold and help and extend hope to those who have been traumatized?

Can we let go of our notion that we have a God-given inalienable right to protect ourselves—and shift our focus to helping others instead?

Can we put our guns down long enough to do that?

Jeff Munroe

Jeff Munroe is the editor of the Reformed Journal. 


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Good point on the difference this time. Thanks. To arm everyone. American death wish, and as American as apple pie. Part of our 1776 mythology, so I’m not hopeful.

  • Lisa Vander Wal says:

    I so agree, Jeff. Thanks.

  • Barb says:

    Excellent book and essay here, Jeff. Your book is very helpful in dealing with trauma.

  • Jean Scott says:

    Well said, Jeff! Will we ever learn?!

  • Beverley Rannow says:

    Thank you for this article, it expresses my sentiments precisely.

  • Mary Swier Bolhuis says:

    I just finished reading your book. I read voraciously, but seldom has a book taken me so long to read. Every episode was traumatic, and worth giving it its own time-space for the story and resulting pain to seep in. On its heels comes Kansas City’s shoot out. Thank you Jeff for sharing your conclusions. It has given me much to share with others.

  • Jim Olthuis says:

    Right on! As you say, “Hurt people, hurt people.”
    With guns, they kill people. Trauma is contagious!

  • RZ says:

    ” God-given right to protect ourselves…” is not biblical. “God-given right to protect each other” is the biblical way. The right to free speech and the right to bear arms are not biblical in their origin. They come from the US Bill of Rights. The way of the cross is about self-sacrifice toward the common good.

  • Jack Ridl says:

    Such an important essay, Jeff. Weaving the personal and public was done poignantly. Thank you.

    As a recipient of trauma I have spent each day having to try to be kind.

    Remember to write an affirmation on Amazon of Jeff’s extremely important book.

  • Keith De Witt says:

    I can give you 100 examples of where a good guy with the gun made a difference.

  • Springerpanhead says:

    When the government acts lawless the people follow suit

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