Reflections on March for Our Lives — Deacon Holly Hoffman, MD
“…the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.” Galatians 5:6b-8
As a pediatrician, gun violence has been on my “radar” since the early 1990’s. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued its first policy statement supporting a handgun and assault weapons ban in 1992, making it the first public health organization to do so, and it has long regarded counseling parents on gun safety to be part of the standard of care for US children. An estimated 20,600 people under the age of 25 are injured by a gun every year and 6,570 die. Guns kill twice as many in this age group as cancer, five times as many as heart disease and 20 times as many as infections. Pediatric doctors regard gun safety as a major public health issue for our children and young adults. The AAP fought a very public legal battle with the NRA in 2011, winning the right to discuss gun safety with parents as part of preventive care. (Yes, they tried to “gag” us.)
My work as a Deacon for the ELCA also influences my feelings on the need for improved regulations on guns in our country. I am very proud of the ELCA for taking a stance in support of the youth who organized and participated in the March for Our Lives, for supporting them as “peacemakers”.
On the day of the march, I was extremely impressed with the way the whole event flowed. Hospitality was excellent and included free water and many staff persons helping visitors find their way to the march. The number of youth in attendance was amazing; the vast majority were respectful and well-spoken. People with differing viewpoints and counter-protesters were tolerated with respect. No violence occurred that I was aware of. The official speakers were articulate and passionate in a way that I have not seen from our political leaders. I was moved, often to tears, by the stories that these children… yes, 8- and 11-year-olds as well as teens … had to tell. They reminded me of the way that some of them have lived their entire lives under siege. It gave me renewed energy to press on in advocating for their right to live without fear, without having to dodge bullets.
I have spent a lot of time since then thinking about the “Big Three” public health crises that affect US children and young adults (from my perspective): obesity, opiate addiction and gun violence. All three share a number of features in common:
* They involve an element of addiction (drugs, food, guns)
* There is corporate greed involved in feeding these addictions
* Tendency to displace responsibility
* Emphasis on individual desires rather than societal good
* Lack of long-term or critical thinking
There are seven strategies that have proven effective in addressing individual behaviors and community conditions when addictive negative forces are at work. These are commonly referred to as CADCA’s Seven Strategies for Effective Community Change. They include:
• Provide Information
• Enhance Skills
• Provide Support
• Change Access / Barriers
• Change Consequences, Incentives/Disincentives
• Change Physical Design
• Modify & Change Policies
The March for Our Lives did a very effective job at providing information. Those involved outlined some basic gun law changes (“modify and change policies” ) that could address access, disincentives and even aspects of physical design.
There are some big elements to overcome. There is a cultural paradigm that needs to be shifted. We, as Church, owe it to our children to be able to set aside arguments and look at the greater good. We need to follow Jesus example of non-violence, love and be truly pro-life … ALL life.
With God’s help and persistence to “run the race”, we can do it.
Catherine Walker, teen participant
“When I was going to the March I was not sure what to expect, but when I got there I could feel the energy from everyone willing to stand up and fight. It was like we all came together to stand up and get our message across that some- thing needs to be done. We will not let this go without a fight. We will fight for what we feel is right and for what needs to be done.”
Reference materials, for those interested in more:
Holly C. Hoffman, MD, MAMS, is a Deacon at St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran, Carlisle.