It's happened again, this time in Aurora, Colo.
At times like this, I'm often asked why I believe in God. One reason I know there has to be a God is the presence of evil. If God doesn't exist, what is it that evil is working so hard to overcome?
I've seen this evil before. In 1989 in Stockton, Calif., a man released a hail of bullets that injured 29 and killed five children between 6 and 8 years old. My pastor's heart and military training demanded I go to the scene where Stockton police asked me to help with death notifications.
As I spoke to parents who'd recently emigrated from Vietnam, they wanted to know how the grammar school had become a killing field reminiscent of their homeland. I had no answer, but the legislature did.
Five years later, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was passed. Unfortunately, it was allowed to expire on Sept. 13, 2004, and since then efforts to reinstate it haven't even reached a vote in the house.
I introduce the question in a spiritual way, not a political way. Spiritually, we know that killing innocent civilians is a sin, so if we allow a weapon linked to killing so many innocent people to remain on the public market, why are we complicit?
We are such safety nuts in America. Prescription drugs capable of killing one in every 50,000 are removed from the market. When a few children have crippling reactions to their inoculations, thousands of parents refuse immunizations.
Yet when more than 30,000 people are killed annually by guns in this country, we can't even discuss how the banning of assault weapons might mitigate those deaths. (And don't get me started on how many lives would be spared in Mexico without American-made assault rifles.)
These weapons have a single purpose: to kill people. They are not for hunting or home protection or target shooting. They aren't even accurate. The strategy is to spray an area and hope your target is among the collateral damage.
I'm not for taking your handguns, mind you. Not shotguns or hunting rifles. Just military assault rifles. Who needs these guns? Only the military! In the hands of those who protect us, they are necessary.
We live in a country of freedoms and restrictions. We can drink, but not while driving. Own weapons, but can't kill. We accept reasonable limits in order to maintain a society that promotes both freedom and structure.
Those limits often change with societal interests, but this is one of those times that I wonder if gun-related fundamentalism is holding our society hostage to its own Kevlar-vested interest. (And believe me, I know the face of fundamentalism.)
It's unlikely that my humble musings will affect the political outcome one bit. But perhaps when these mass shootings do occur, spiritual questioning can bring transformative change. The question is: Do we hear God's call or something else?
The Stockton tragedy of 1989 changed my life and put me on the path to becoming a chaplain because I realized then, as I realize now, that assault rifles are weapons of mass destruction. But God calls us to be something my friend Tamara Chin likes to call “Agents of Mass Humanity.”
And by being a chaplain, I'm living God's response to this violent act as I repeat the words spoken by Joseph in the ancient book of Genesis: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of “No Small Miracles.” You can call him at 321-549-2500, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit his website thechaplain.net or write him at P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759.