After my sophomore year of college, I worked for Conoco Oil Company as a roustabout at a heavy oil project near the Texas-Mexican border. I enrolled in Southwest Texas Junior College and lived in the dorms at the Uvalde campus. I took two elective courses and ate my meals at the college. In the early morning, I carpooled to the Conoco production site and took care of the field equipment. Mid-afternoon, I drove back to Uvalde and after cleaning up and eating dinner, I went to my evening class. On Friday afternoons, I drove to my parent’s home outside of Corpus Christi and returned to Uvalde on Sunday evenings. The union pay was good, and the work related to my engineering major. In addition, I received two elective credits which reduced my course load.
Uvalde is a sleepy rural town with a large population of Hispanic residents. Our production site was so close to the Mexican border that we occasionally saw illegal immigrants walking through the lease property brush. Border Patrol vehicles frequently set up check points along the roads that we traveled.
My junior college roommate was a bull riding cowboy who kept a rifle in our room. One evening, he drank too much and got into an argument with another college student. He pulled out his rifle and swore at him. The student calmly just walked up to him and took the gun without any resistance. He told my roommate that the gun would be returned when he sobered up. They laughed about it later.
I knew about Uvalde before my college summer there because I camped at Garner State Park, 33 miles north of Uvalde. My Scout troop drove to either Garner or the nearby HEB camp each spring for a long weekend camping trip. Both are located on the Frio River, a crystal-clear, spring-fed river that cools even the hottest Texas summer day. Campers dance to music on summer evenings at the park plaza. I drove there several evenings to dance during my summer in Uvalde.
While recently in Botswana, I learned of the Robb Elementary shootings in Uvalde. London friends emailed me their sympathies. I replied with boiling anger at this senseless loss of life. Visions of people happily dancing at Garner State Park were juxtaposed with dead school children. I knew what the next steps would entail: nonstop news coverage of grieving relatives, elected officials arguing, donations pouring in for the families, public safety officials pleading for solutions, and the world outside the United States shaking their heads in disbelief. Our Botswana guide told us about their strict gun licensing laws and how this would not happen in his country. As I viewed the herds of potentially harmful wildlife surrounding us, this would be the natural place to carry firearms. Yet, there were none in our vehicle.
Senseless mass killings are a recurring theme in the United States. Most people feel hopeless and numb. 2020 deaths from “gun injuries overtook traffic accidents as the leading cause of death in the US among children and adolescents.” (31 May 2022, Financial Times, Anjana Ahuja, America’s shootings are a public health emergency). I learned to safely fire a rifle at Scout camp and my father took me shooting at a nearby shooting range when I was the age of the murdered school children. I memorized the different parts of a gun, followed gun range rules, and practiced marksmanship. My father’s guns were stored away from children, and the ammunition was stored in a separate hidden location. Guns were a part of life in a small town and were used for hunting and practice. Schools were safe environments. Security was not necessary. People freely entered school buildings and treated others with respect.
Since returning from my overseas travels, Congress quickly passed gun control legislation which the President signed a few days ago. My US Senator, John Cornyn, showed leadership in the Senate and worked with the opposing party to gain an agreement. He was booed when publicly speaking to his fellow party members. Senator Cornyn showed courage when he sought common ground and reasonable legislative action. He promised to produce gun safety legislation after the San Antonio rural church shooting that killed 26 people and injured 20. Having two mass shootings in your state brings the reality of gun violence to your doorstep. John Cornyn and others took productive steps in the right direction.
The only way to solve difficult issues is to bring all parties to the table and work together with facts. Gun violence is a growing problem (fact). The constitution gives citizens the right to bear arms (fact). When I was about five years old, my mother got into a car accident. I fell headfirst onto the front passenger floorboard because there were no seatbelts or child car seats. The front dash was metal without padding and if we would have been hit head on, the engine would have landed in the front seat. We still drive cars, but laws have been enacted that make cars much safer than 50 years ago. For example, my grandchildren are required to sit in approved child seats until they reach a certain weight and height. Cars were not abandoned, just made safer. The same can be done for guns. It just takes courage and love for our neighbors.
What would Jesus do? He knew violence and death firsthand in his cruel Roman occupied land. His parents took him to Egypt to escape Herod’s death decree. He witnessed unjust Roman taxation that starved most of the population. He memorized Torah laws that commanded stoning for certain offenses. Yet, when the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery before him to be punished, he said, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7) Jesus did not cast stones and the Pharisees went away. Those who own guns need to break bread with those who desire more restrictive gun controls. Listening, respecting each other, and seeking solutions based on facts would be a big step towards the new creation.