Aaliyah was a beautiful, boisterous ten-year-old girl. I’m connected to her because her brother, EJ, is my lovely sister-in-law’s nephew. On New’s Years, Aaliyah was outside at her grandparents’ watching the fireworks with her family in Elkton, MD. At about 12:10am, she was struck in the head by a bullet that had been fired into the air by someone celebrating the new year. Last Thursday morning, her family made the decision to take her off of life support. She died the same morning.
I can’t imagine the grief of Aaliyah’s family, and I hope that you have never known it either, but for the sake of it please take a moment, and reflect on the senselessness of this death. Think of this ten-year-old, so full of life, who didn’t see more than 10 minutes of the new year, because someone took a gun in their hand and fired it, not thinking about where the bullet might come down.
I don’t know what to think about gun control. I don’t know of an answer that fairly balances citizens’ right to bear arms with the epidemic of gun violence in our country. But I do know that nothing in Aaliyah’s situation was fair. She shouldn’t be dead. It is that simple.
A project now exists that strives to keep track of gun-related deaths in the U.S. in the wake of the shooting at Newtown. As of today, that tally is at 588 (since 12/14). A fair number of those deaths, according to the radio show through which I first heard of this project, are accidental. While I don’t know the answer to gun violence, I will confess that my mind reels at the sheer illogic of these deaths; that people lost their lives because mistakes were made around lethal tools, tools that are so widely and fiercely available, tools that our culture pushes as machismo-enhancers and self-defense necessities.
I don’t know what to think about gun control, and I don’t know the answer to gun violence, but I believe that it worth having the conversations, asking the questions, and telling the stories like Aaliyah’s. Aaliyah’s story cannot be neatly filed away under “freak accidents.” It happened here; to us; in a place where a person can fire a gun in the air in a populated area without thinking about where it comes down.
Good Shepherd: gather Aaliyah into your flock and keep her in verdant pastures and everlasting peace. Be with her family. Weep with them as they mourn; hold them as grief threatens to overwhelm them. Bring justice to this violent country. Teach us to be good stewards not only of our gun laws, but of each others’ lives. Lead us in the ways of wisdom and peace. In your Son’s name I pray. Amen.