Our Everyday Insanity

“Try not to think about it. That’s what I do,” The Judge texts me.

“The Judge,” for those unfamiliar, is a term of affection I use for my wife. She’s a State District Judge in Dallas County.

I texted her this morning, soon after I heard the news of yet another shooting. This time, the shooting was the assassination-style murder of a District Attorney just outside the courthouse in Kaufman County, Texas. (Just south of Dallas).

“Try not to think about it. That’s what I do.”

When something horrible happens –at work, or in the world– Dennise has the remarkable ability to keep her head down, keep her cool, and put one foot in front of the other.
It’s just her way. I love her for it.

Meanwhile, I am professionally and morally pulled to ask the deeper questions. Questions of meaning. Questions of purpose and existence. When something horrible happens, I tend to stop and feel tremendous waves of grief and empathy.
It’s just my way.

That’s the difference between me and her. It’s probably what makes us a great couple. It’s definitely why she’s great at what she does, why I’m good at what I do, and why we should never mix them up.

So, we met for lunch today, which was great. And I comfort myself with facts.
Yes, it wasn’t Dallas County.
Yes, she was more than safe in the courthouse, flanked by her faithful Bailiff.
These things I know.

But I also know this…

When there is a courthouse shooting like this, everybody who works at a courthouse anywhere, anybody who loves them, their hearts sink. Stomachs tighten. They know, intuitively, that this is the danger courthouse personnel face each and every day. Day-to-day, they push it out of their mind. They try not to think about it. Because, otherwise, it would drive them crazy.

But every morning, Moms and Dads, spouses and loved ones, wake up. They spend those holy hectic moments of preparation with their families. As the great Mark Heard once sang, they “nod over coffee and say goodbye…smile over coffee and turn to go.” (my favorite version, by Peirce Pettis, here)

They kiss their families goodbye. They go to work at courthouses, doing jobs that repeatedly place them face-to-face with angry, sometimes violent, people.

Yes, I thank God there is good courthouse security. Believe me, I thank God for that everysingle….day.

So, no, you don’t think about every day. But you do on days like this one. And on other days too. Now and then, The Judge comes home with some story of a close call. I’m not gonna scare you with them here.
But, trust me. I could.

On those days, that term of endearment that I use for her becomes all too real. The heart races. The stomach sinks.
It happens.

So, it happened again today. And, in an existential sense, The Judge is right, “What are you gonna do about it? It is what it is.”

But like I said, as a preacher, I’m called to meditate on the deeper meanings.

As a minister and a citizen I know and have faith that two truths are self evident:

The Constitution invites us to live life in freedom. 
God calls us to live without fear.

The presence of 300 million firearms, loose in our nation, erodes our ability to do either. We deserve to be able to walk down the street, to our jobs, to to to lunch, to the movies, to our houses of worship, and not fear that we will be shot. Children deserve to be able to wait for the bus and not fear being shot. (Thinking of Chicago…)

So, I will repeat what I said in December, after Sandy Hook

There is no way to reduce gun deaths to zero. But we must work the margins, as we’ve done with automobile safety, and as we’ve done with the safety of any other consumer good.

Yes, gun owners, you have the right to own a gun. If you wish. But I will pray for you, because you are more than four times more likely to be shot than I am.

The Constitution bestows on you the right to own a gun. But the words “well regulated” appear right there in that Second Amendment itself. It’s pretty clear that the framers understood that “regulation” and “gun ownership” were not mutually exclusive things.

In fact, from a plain reading of the amendment, you might argue that it is UNregulated gun ownership that is most clearly UNconstitutional.

But whether we choose to own guns or not, God desires us all to live life without fear. As I just said, we deserve to walk into our place of business –a restaurant, a school, a house of worship– without living in the fear of being shot.

I really need gun owners to hear and digest this next existential truth, which I said in an earlier blog, and will continue to say until it sinks in: It is not possible for you to be defensively-vigilant enough in all places and times. If you believe this, you are deluded. Dangerously deluded.

Even if you are well trained with firearms, during the high-stress situation of an actual confrontation, you are far more likely to be shot before you can unholster your gun. You are far more likely to have your gun used against you, than you are to stop actual violence from ever happening. If you don’t believe it, please watch this video.

More guns cannot keep you safe. More guns cannot keep your family safe. If you believe this, you are believing a lie that is dangerous to you and your family, to me and my family, and to society as a whole.

The only personal solution truly is the choice to have faith. To put our faith in God. To trust in God, not guns. The only solution is to rebuild trust between people.

The only societal solutions are reasonable regulation of guns and concentration on the problem of mental illness.

Our nation is insane about guns. I will keep saying this until I get some evidence that our insanity has lifted. Until we can wake up and admit this, nothing truly will change.

Gun owners, when you say new gun laws will not help, you are wrong. They can definitely help the margins. And the margins will save the actual lives of actual human beings.

Gun owners, when you say that mental illness is the “real” problem, I might agree with you partly. Yes, it’s part of the issue.

So, let me beg you: if you know gun-owning friends whom you suspect of being mentally unstable… say something about them to somebody else.

You see, most of the folks I know do not own guns. So, I’m not generally around these unstable folks. But I know all-too-well that they exist. You do too.

So, if you’re going to argue that mental illness is the problem, fine. Help us all out. Help us reduce the margins, and defend the rights of responsible gun owners by helping us identify your gun-owning friends who may be mentally unstable.

This is something you can do that would make a tremendous difference.
And, yes, there is more burden on you here, absolutely. Burden and responsibility. That’s as it should be.

That aside, the truth is this…

We are being terrorized by guns.
Guns DO kill people.
A lax attitude toward enforcement of gun laws kills people.
The refusal to adopt additional sensible gun laws, some supported by majorities of NRA members, kills people.
Doing nothing kills people.

God is moving the hearts of people in our nation on this issue. Even the majority of gun owners support some increased gun regulation.

So, as a minister and citizen, I am passionate about the following potential new laws(a):
Backgrounds checks on all sales.
A national database.
Limits on high capacity magazines.
Bans on assault weapons.

These things, over time –perhaps over the span of our children’s lives to see the full effect– would definitely save lives.
There is absolutely no question about it.

As for The Judge? I can tell you what she’ll do. We’ll talk about it a bit more tonight. Maybe we’ll both shed a few tears.

Then, she’ll get up tomorrow morning, like every morning. She’ll kiss The Divine Miss M and me, and she’ll go back to that courthouse again. She, and tens of thousands like her, across the land.

They’ve got important work to do, upholding the law.

What am I gonna do?
I’m gonna keep talking about this, as long as it takes, until I see some evidence that our insanity over guns is lifting. The truth is, I could’ve written this blog on almost any day since Sandy Hook. It’s just that today it hits a bit closer to home. Tomorrow, it probably won’t be as close to home. But it will be just as true.

You see, I could write this blog every day. And that’s really the most insane part of our insanity about guns.

  (As always, if you like this post, then “share it” or “like” it on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too…)    

 (a) I am speaking for myself, here, as a minister and citizen. I am not speaking for anyone else, including The Judge.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

3 thoughts on “Our Everyday Insanity

  1. First off Eric im glad your wife is safe, I had your same feelings after sandy hook with my young children being in school at the time it happened. But I have some concerns with what you have posted. You said you were thankful for all the security at the courthouse where your wife works, I can understand that and I do agree with it, but, after the NRA held their press conference and suggested that we put armed officers in schools or let teachers carry firearms you were very vocal against these policies. You are leaving me very befuddled as to why you think your wife needs armed security but do not think my children deserve the same especially considering the fact that children are the easiest to prey on and much less able to defend themselves. Now your logical argument would dictate that your wife's line of work involves dealing with the most unsavory and dangerous people our society has to offer and I will most definitely agree with that. These facts remain, no mass shootings have happened at a courthouse, a place with security and lots of guns around. All of these mass shootings happened at schools and other places where guns are not allowed. I strive not to be rude but if cannot see this correlation then, at best, giving into emotion and not giving this subject the critical thinking it deserves and requires, and, at worst, being completely disingenuous for the sake of feeling that your family is somehow more important than mine or, even worse, just towing your party line.

  2. Dear Anonymous,The only guns allowed in the courthouse are those carried by the baliffs, who are employees of the county and whose sole job is to protect not on the judge, but also all the litigants and defendants.The logical case I believe you are attempting to make doesn't hold here, in that as you admit court is one of those special-case places where criminals are *known* to be present. Angry people, sometimes so mad they want to kill each other (even over "civil" matters) are also present.Unlike schools, parks, churches, movie theaters, etc….courthouses are one of the few places where a reasonable assumption of possible dangers will never be mitigated.Schools are not those kinds of places. Schools, like many other public places in civil society, are the kinds of places where Americans should be able to reasonably assume guns will *not* be present, and therefore where they do *not* have to be in a situation of hypervigilance at all times.In fact, contrary to the point I believe you hope to make, courthouses prove that "gun-free zones work." Public places where only law enforcement have access to guns (courthouses, other government buildings) tend to be very safe environments.But *not* because *some* people are armed…but because *most people are NOT*

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