What If My Daughter Was Murdered at School?
It’s 4:30 a.m. I should be reading my Bible right now.
But I can’t read more than two sentences without losing my focus. I start compulsively praying. Jesus, stop the violence. Jesus, be with those families. Jesus, set our nation right.
I can’t focus.
I can’t stop thinking about my kindergartener, sleeping in the room next to me. She’ll wake up in two hours. We’ll cuddle on the couch. I’ll grab her breakfast and help her choose her clothes. I’ll say, “I love you more than any other girl in the world,” give her a hug and a kiss and watch her walk out the door on her way to school.
And when she does that, I’ll fully expect to see her at the end of the day. Her full-of-life-smile. Her full-of-joy-laughter.
So, I’m just like Angel Garza. Yesterday morning he kissed his 4th-grade daughter, Amerie Jo, goodbye. He expected to see her later that day. Like every day. But he didn’t. Amerie Jo never came home. Amerie Jo was murdered in her classroom by a demented gunman.
After hours of waiting to hear if she was safe, Angel Garza got the worst call of his life: his precious, beloved daughter was among the victims. He wrote this on Facebook,
“Thank you everyone for the prayers and help to try to find my baby. She’s been found. My little love is now flying high with the angels above. Please don’t take a second for granted. Hug your family. Tell them you love them. I love you Amerie jo. Watch over your baby brother for me.”
A father should never have to write those words.
I cannot read them without crying. I cannot help but imagine the black hole of despair and pain that would open up in my heart if this morning was the last morning I kissed my daughter goodbye. That black hole would devour everything.
That’s why I write these words with tears in my eyes and prayers in my heart for the 19 families who just lost children to gun violence.
But I also feel anger. Anger toward an anti-life culture in which our moral foundations are so eroded and our communal solidarity so disintegrated that school shootings happen repeatedly.
Something is desperately wrong with the mental and spiritual health of America.
I’m angry at hardline gun advocates and lobbyists who refuse to even consider reforms to our gun laws. But I’m also hopeful because I don’t think this describes most gun owners who buy guns to protect life. Like me, they understand that you can propose changes to gun laws without jeopardizing second amendment rights.
All rights have limitations. For instance, the first amendment does not protect your right to yell “Bomb!” or “Fire!” in a theater. This is because the ensuing panic could cost human lives, and the right to life supersedes the right to free speech.
There are ways to reduce school shootings without compromising second amendment rights (more on that below). And we must consider them because a child’s right to live supersedes an adult’s right to ballistic self-expression.
After all, at the end of the day, our ultimate allegiance is not to constitutional ethics, but to kingdom ethics.
Shouldn’t we seriously consider changes to gun laws? Doesn’t this shooting demand us to at least ask the question again?
I don’t do providential history much, but I cannot help thinking that God is sending a message to Christians when, within three weeks, some of the same people celebrating the potential rescue of tens of thousands of unborn lives also find themselves saying, “Don’t touch our guns rights even if it saves the lives of our kids.”
Of course, no one actually thinks that. Just as few pro-choice advocates actually think, “Don’t touch our reproductive rights even if it saves the lives of unborn kids.”
But what you feel doesn’t change what’s at stake. You probably know what’s at stake in the abortion debate. But have you thought about what’s at stake in the gun debate?
Here are some facts to consider before you answer:
- Guns are the leading cause of death in children.
This year, gun violence has taken the lives of more children in schools than it has the lives of police officers on duty. No one should be able to read that and accept the status quo. God loves the vulnerable and demands proactive, restorative justice on their behalf.
- School shootings are an alarmingly frequent and uniquely American problem.
In 2017, a criminologist at Montclair State University tallied every school shooting in the US and Europe since 1980, removing only suicides. Her conclusions were stark. Despite having a significantly smaller population, the US had almost 10 times more school shootings than the entire continent of Europe. And while there are always problems with measuring this kind of violence, the stark difference stands no matter how you cut it.
- Americans are buying significantly more firearms today than they did in the wake of 9/11.
It’s no surprise that a tragic terror attack caused a spike in firearm purchases. But those numbers look measly compared to the present. Since 9/11, we have flooded the country with weapons. Shouldn’t you at least consider whether this accounts for the increasing number of school shootings? (Source)
- In other nations, tragic gun violence leads to legislative changes, so why not in America?
For example, a mass shooting in New Zealand in 2019 left 51 people dead. The country’s people swiftly moved to ban most semi-automatic weapons and launch a buyback program that took tens of thousands of firearms out of circulation. I'm not arguing that we deploy the same laws, as much as pointing out that tragedy led to actual change. The violent status quo shouldn't satisfy us.
What would it say about the acculturation of the church if the death of children did not cause Christian gun advocates to at least reconsider parts of their position? Has the frequency of school shootings made us too callous? Shouldn't every tragedy open a fresh conversation?
America is a uniquely dangerous place for the unborn and for school-aged children. Shouldn’t Christians lead the charge to defend both?
Let me conclude with two pleas to those open to considering a different way:
- If you love children more than guns (I assume you do), would you seriously consider red flag laws?
School gun violence is far more common in our country than in China, India, Russia, or any other Western nation. This violence is often pre-meditated and rooted in mental illness that close family and friends recognize ahead of time.
So why not consider red flag laws?
As David French wrote this morning, red flag laws allow authorities to temporarily confiscate the weapons of those deemed a threat to themselves or others, by virtue of their mental health. Of course, this will entail educating people about the laws and ensuring that they are enforced in a way that incentivizes family members to utilize them.
- If you want to represent Jesus to an unbelieving world, won’t you consider a robustly pro-life position?
We worship a savior who taught us to “love your enemies” and “pray for those who persecute you,” but many of us live the gospel of “protect yourself from your enemies” and “prepare pistols for those who persecute you.”
I wish Christians didn’t have to be cautious about challenging gun laws. Writing this blog is taboo. But we should be known for stopping gun violence, more than for defending gun rights. I understand that the desire to defend yourself and protect others may come from your passion for life. But never forget: our allegiance is not to the NRA, it’s to the king who laid down his life for his enemies.
So do you sound more like Clint Eastwood or the rabbi who taught his followers to turn the other cheek?
Brett McCracken put the problem perfectly in a recent tweet,
We’ve utterly failed our children when:
They can be brutally killed in the womb because enough adults clamor for abortion rights.
They can be brutally killed in the classroom because enough adults clamor for gun rights.
A child’s life is more precious than our rights.
My daughter will wake up in an hour. She is a precious, unique, lovely, wonderful, unbearably important part of my universe. I desperately want to see her at the end of the day.
If you disagree with this post, I don’t believe it’s because you love children insufficiently. That is ridiculous. But I’m not sure if you’ve slowed down enough to consider the gravity of the situation.
Try doing so. Close your eyes and imagine the elementary school child you love most. Now imagine that child leaving for school this morning, watching an insane gunman enter her classroom, murder her friends, and finally her.
Now imagine how you would feel when you learn that she’s not coming home. She’s been murdered alongside 18 of her classmates.
Know that yesterday, 19 families lived that hell.
This mental exercise will give you clarity. You’ll know that what happened at Robb Elementary School should never happen again. Let’s pour out our ammunition, not the blood of our children. Let’s make what happened in Uvalde the moment when we say, “Never again.”
In Jesus’s name, never again.
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Patrick Miller (MDiv, Covenant Theological Seminary) is a pastor at The Crossing. He offers cultural commentary and interviews with leading Christian thinkers on the podcast Truth Over Tribe, and is the coauthor of the forthcoming book Truth Over Tribe: Pledging Allegiance to the Lamb, Not the Donkey or the Elephant. He is married to Emily and they have two kids.Twitter