A Heart for Justice

Excerpted From
When Thoughts and Prayers Aren’t Enough
By Taylor S. Schumann

I didn’t flip a switch and all of the sudden become a gun reform activist. The transition happened slowly and naturally for me. Years of internalizing the pain and suffering of the survivors community and hours of poring over gun violence statistics culminated in a base of knowledge which pushed me into working on gun reform. I began to speak out about issues of gun violence.

I became diligent about educating myself about gun laws and statistics. I wanted to know what I was talking about. I wanted to be able to answer questions when people asked me about my opinions about guns. I didn’t want to rely solely on my experience as a victim from a school shooting in 2013, so I started talking to other victims of gun violence and other activists. Over time, I began to feel more comfortable speaking out in support of new gun laws and against the pro-gun rhetoric used by the Republican Party and the National Rifle Association (NRA). I was slowly finding myself in this new role of fighting for gun reform and I was navigating the emotions of it all, too. I was allowing myself to step into it slowly, figuring it out as I went. Then the next mass shooting happened.

When I was shot, I often heard “At least it was only your hand!” It’s true. I was wounded; “only” my hand was wounded. It took the brunt of the trauma. Yet, my entire body suffered. I couldn’t pretend my hand didn’t exist and I couldn’t ignore the pain emanating from that part of my body, because it’s all part of me. When one part of the body of Christ suffers, we all should feel that suffering. When one part of the body of Christ experiences the trauma of gun violence, we should come closer—bearing the burden of it, and recognizing until that part of our body is whole, none of us will be whole.

I confess to you, reader, I am not a theologian. But it sure seems like God is trying to tell us something, don’t you think? Throughout Scripture we are consistently told to love our neighbor, encourage them and build them up. We are told to carry their burdens, defend them, take up their cause and plead their case. We are even told to only seek the good of others. And above it all, we are to love them as we love ourselves. If something is our neighbor’s burden, it is our burden, too. Gun violence is your neighbor’s problem, so it is your problem, too.

Victims of gun violence who are desperate for change are forced to hold up their personal suffering like some sort of protest sign and say, “Look at my pain. Look at my experience. Look at what I’ve suffered—don’t you want to help me? Don’t you want to stop this?” And people shrug their shoulders and they say “No” or “That’s not the right way to do it” without offering a better one. They are able to turn and look away and not think another second about it. The realization of my pain not being enough for some people is one that chips away little pieces of my heart every time. I don’t know if this part will get easier, right now it mostly feels like someone is kicking me in the lungs.

The hurt I feel is what drives me to keep going to try to keep anyone else from having to feel it, too. The panicked feeling I get when I envision someday having to send my son into a school is what spurs me on to make schools safer for him and every other child in America. I wish I could do the work without all of these heavy things, but I truly think they are all necessary. I believe God makes beauty from ashes, so I’ve come to believe maybe the ashes are critical in the making of the beauty.

It’s hard to change your mind about something, isn’t it? To realize you might be wrong about something you’ve believed for years of your life is a disorienting experience. We find so much of our identity in our belief systems and our opinions that when one of the threads gets pulled; it begins to feel like the whole thing might unravel with it. That’s how I felt. I still feel that way sometimes. Especially when I’m talking to people I knew when I was younger who remember me a certain way with certain beliefs. I’ve been asked a few times why I changed everything I believe in. What a casual and very easy breezy question to be asked. The truth is, though, I didn’t change everything I believe in. I think I just decided what I believe in should look a different way.

At its core, the issue of gun violence is so much more than an argument over whether or not we should have stricter gun laws. When I think about ending gun violence, I think about children being able to go to school to learn math instead of learning how to hide. I think about babies in their car seats who will live through the drive home without a bullet flying into their car. I think about neighborhoods and cities not being torn apart by gunfire whizzing across the streets and through windows. I think about teenagers who can’t see a way out of their sorrow having access to mental healthcare instead of their parents’ gun. When I think about ending gun violence, I think about women in abusive relationships that would have another day to get out before their partner used a gun to murder them. I think about a world where less people die at the hands of police officers because the fear of guns being in the hand of everyone on the street is a distant memory. I imagine Americans going to the movies and concerts and church without glancing toward the exit signs to make an escape plan. I think about bodies remaining whole, with no gunshot wounds destroying bone and tissue. I imagine myself picking up my son without struggling, because both of my hands are perfect, neither one familiar with the devastation of a bullet.

Are you picturing it with me? Don’t these images look a bit more like the abundant life Jesus speaks about than the ones we see right now?

What I know of Jesus is that he calls us to life and life abundant, and yet what we seem to have created, often invoking his name in our handiwork, is more like death and death abundant. This realization is ultimately what did it for me, what changed me. In his book Beating Guns, author Shane Claiborne writes, “Some will say all we can do is pray. That is a lie.” It is a lie, because every day we are given a choice. In a choice between life and guns, I’m going to choose life. I’m going to choose even the hope for life over the current reality of lives ravaged by guns and bodies and minds torn apart by bullets. Every day we are given a choice and I’m going to choose life. I’m hoping you will, too.

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Excerpted from When Thoughts and Prayers Aren’t Enough by Taylor S. Schumann. Copyright (c) 2021 by Taylor Sharpe Schumann. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. IVPress.com

Taylor Schumann
Taylor Schumann

Taylor S. Schumann is a survivor of the April 2013 shooting at a college in Christiansburg, Virginia. She is a writer and activist whose writing has appeared in Christianity Today, Sojourners, and Fathom. She is a contributor to If I Don’t Make It, I Love You: Survivors in the Aftermath of School Shootings (Skyhorse) and When Thoughts and Prayers Aren’t Enough: A Shooting Survivor’s Journey into the Realities of Gun Violence (IVP).