Among the most difficult sessions at the Sojourners Summit last week was the panel on gun violence.

There are more than 30,000 gun-related deaths in the US every year. As one member of the Summit panel pointed out, if there was a virus killing that many, wouldn’t we all be scrambling to find a cure?

(That is, unless the victims were largely people  in a category that too many powerful people don’t happen to care much about, which, I need hardly say, was the case with the virus that causes AIDS for a shamefully long time.)

Gun violence is one of those issues that can feel really paralyzing, because, while most Americans support common sense measures such as closing background check loopholes, the gun lobbies are powerful.

The feeling many of us have is that while our legislative bodies fail to implement policies that have any meaningful effect on people’s access to guns — to say nothing of people’s access to treatment for the sorts of disorders and social issues that give rise to violence — more and more people die in senseless acts of violence: acts impossible to complete if it weren’t so easy to get hold of firearms.

A sign outside the last storefront before Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, CT. Photo courtesy Claudia  Heidelberger via Flickr Creative Commons.

A sign outside the last storefront before Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, CT. Photo courtesy Claudia
Heidelberger via Flickr Creative Commons.

One of the people on the panel at the Summit was Mark Barden, whose son, Daniel, was one of the first-graders murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Barden spoke with the kind of authenticity that can’t be coached. He seemed to be grieving with his whole self. Even the way he held his body looked sorrowful; the slope of his shoulders, the turn of his feet.

Speaking briefly about his son, Barden also, in a moving demonstration of grace, expressed compassion for Adam Lanza — although he didn’t mention him by name. Daniel, Barden said, was the kind of kid who’d look out for anyone who seemed lonely, sad, unnoticed, unseen. He checked up on people; checked in with people.

The person who killed his son, he said, was one of those kids who was often alone; the kind of kid who felt invisible. The kind of kid who maybe needed — among many other things — a friend like Daniel.

“Pick your eyes up from the sidewalk and look at people,” Mr. Barden pleaded, with tears in his eyes. Yes, we should call our representatives; yes, we should make our voices heard where laws are made. But we should also do what we can to foster empathy; to create a world where no one feels invisible and ignored — least of all those who disproportionately fall victim to our collective failure to care enough to act.

Look at people, he said. Take your eyes off your smartphone and say hello. Smile. Let no one around you feel invisible.

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