Funt: Gun Victims Need More Than Prayer
The New York Daily News cries "Fire!" so often on its front page that readers are wary of false alarms. But what the News came up with following the shooting rampage in San Bernardino was one of the boldest moves a newspaper could make.
The boxcar headline said: GOD ISN'T FIXING THIS.
Against a grim black background, the paper reprinted tweets from four Republican lawmakers. In separate posts following the bloodbath, each focused on "prayers" — for the victims and their families.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course. Indeed, sending "thoughts and prayers" after a tragedy is the decent thing to do — a practice followed by politicians from both parties. It's also the safest thing to do.
The Daily News ran a quasi-editorial summary at the bottom of the dramatic page. It read: "As latest batch of innocent Americans are left lying in pools of blood, cowards who could truly end gun scourge continue to hide behind meaningless platitudes."
Deep breath. The "cowards" the paper called out were Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul and Paul Ryan.
The point, driven home in heavy-handed tabloid style, is not a knock on religion. Rather, it's a blast against those who have the power to pass meaningful gun legislation yet refuse to do so — even in the face of one ghastly shooting incident after another.
Following the terrorist attack in Paris, the hashtag #prayforparis turned up quickly on social media and then on billboards across the city. "The terrorists pray, good people think," was an instant response from many in the Twitterverse.
Writing from Paris, columnist Maura Judkis noted, "As #prayforparis spread and was used by people farther and farther from the tragedy, it wasn't long before people began to question the veracity of those prayers, calling out a double standard. If we pray for Paris, many asked, why are we also not praying for the people of Beirut, who suffered losses in an Islamic State attack, or any other place in the world where innocent people die?"
Which brings us back to California, where 14 innocent people died and many others were wounded. Where prayers are welcome, but action should be demanded.
No matter what emerges regarding the two shooters' ties to radical Islamic groups, the availability of guns, especially military-style weapons, must be addressed.
In the words of Pope Francis, "You pray for the hungry, then you feed them. That's how prayer works."
Yet, thanks to the Daily News, the issue of prayer could become an issue in itself. If so, that would be a complete distortion. Prayer isn't the thing, hiding behind prayer is.
When confronted any day now by interviewers and debate moderators asking about the News front page, there are two approaches politicians might take:
(a) There's nothing wrong with prayer! How awful that anyone would use a tragedy to take away not only our right to defend ourselves with guns, but also our right to pray!
(b) We extend our prayers because we genuinely sympathize and care. But we don't stop there. It's time to cast aside partisan politics and take meaningful action to curb the gun epidemic in America. That's what the victims deserve, along with our prayers.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker.