Senate Chaplain Barry Black is right: We need more than thoughts and prayers to reduce gun deaths

OPINION: Unfortunately, too many in Congress are calling for thoughts and prayers and nothing more, as gun violence claims new victims, as it did this week at a private Christian school in Nashville.

Senate Chaplain Barry Black delivers a pray on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, March 28, 2023. (Screenshot/C-SPAN)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Barry Black, the first Black person to serve as U.S. Senate chaplain since the position was created in 1789, is a strong believer in the power of prayer. But he made headlines after the mass murder of three children and three adults in a Nashville church school Monday when he told senators they need to do more than pray to reduce the senseless slaughter of gun violence.

“Lord, when babies die at a church school, it is time for us to move beyond thoughts and prayers,” Black said solemnly as he delivered the opening prayer at the beginning of the Senate session the next day. “Lord, deliver our senators from the paralysis of analysis that waits for the miraculous. Use them to battle the demonic forces that seek to engulf us.”

Black is a clergyman, not a politician. After ministering in churches in North and South Carolina, the 74-year-old Seventh-day Adventist pastor served as a Navy chaplain for 27 years, rising to the rank of rear admiral and becoming chief of Navy chaplains before retiring from the military in 2003 and being appointed Senate chaplain that same year.

Like the children murdered at the Covenant School in Nashville, Black and his seven siblings all attended private Christian schools when they were children, as did his own three sons. Black’s parents were too poor to pay full tuition, but church scholarships enabled Black and his siblings to get a Christian education. He credits his faith with saving him from prison by ending his involvement with a gang when he was a teenager.

The Senate chaplain has been accused by some Republican opponents of gun safety measures of improperly taking a political stand with his heartfelt plea for action to save lives that are being lost to the raging epidemic of gun violence.

In an interview with the Washington Post after his sermon, Black said: “I am a human being who is reacting to the horrific [events] that all Americans, most Americans are seeing. … I am calling for problem-solving. … And however that is done, let’s get it done.” Black quoted the New Testament’s James 2, which says that “Faith without works is dead.” 

Black is right. I believe in the power of prayer as well, but we cannot just sit back and wait for divine intervention to solve all our earthly problems. Neither should our elected government leaders. Their job is to work together to make necessary compromises to solve problems and build a better future for us all. And what work could be more important than saving lives — especially our children?

Unfortunately, too many in Congress are calling for thoughts and prayers and nothing more, as gun violence claims new victims. Because of opposition by nearly all Republicans and a very small number of conservative Democrats, proposals by President Joe Biden and other Democrats to ban assault weapons, require background checks for all gun purchases and take other common-sense gun safety measures have virtually no chance of being passed by Congress this year or next.

While Biden won enough congressional support to sign the most significant gun safety measure in decades last June, that law doesn’t go far enough. More action is needed — and no, Democrats aren’t seeking to outlaw gun ownership, despite the hyperbolic claims of opponents of gun safety legislation.

Gun violence shouldn’t be a partisan issue. It kills people of every political persuasion. And the three 9-year-old children brutally murdered in Nashville, like so many children shot to death before them, had no political affiliation at all. Tragically, guns are now the leading cause of death for children in the U.S.  

According to the Gun Violence Archive, as of Friday, 10,327 people in America have been killed by guns so far this year, including 4,387 in homicides and accidents, and 5,940 in suicides. Another 7,835 people have been wounded by guns this year. And we know that there will be more deaths and injuries caused by guns every day.

The Gun Violence Archive says that so far this year there have been 131 mass shootings, which it defines as incidents in which four or more people were killed or wounded. So while mass killings like the one at the Covenant School understandably get the most media attention, they account for only a small fraction of gun deaths and injuries. 

According to the group Everytown for Gun Safety: “Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by gun violence. They experience 10 times the gun homicides, 18 times the gun assault injuries, and nearly 3 times the fatal police shootings of white Americans. … Each day on average, 30 Black Americans are killed by guns and more than 110 experience non-fatal injuries.” This is intolerable and unacceptable. 

How can anyone blame Chaplain Barry Black for praying that our lawmakers back up their thoughts and prayers with new laws to reduce the toll of this awful bloodbath? How can anyone complain about Chaplain Black’s plea to act to protect the lives of others? And it’s not just our elected officials who should act, we need everyone to find a way to call attention to a growing sense of despair that leads many to use violence as a solution to problems that seem unable to be solved.

Black’s nonpartisan position in the U.S. Senate limits how outspoken he can be. He can’t lobby for the passage of specific legislation, but he is doing all he can by speaking out boldly and courageously to reduce gun violence. He deserves the gratitude of every American who is sick and tired of seeing our schools, our houses of worship, our places of business, our streets, restaurants, grocery stores, nightclubs and every other spot where people gather being turned into killing fields.

Donna Brazile Headshot

Donna Brazile is an ABC News Contributor, veteran political strategist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, and the King Endowed Chair in Public Policy at Howard University. She previously served as interim Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute. She managed the Gore campaign in 2000 and has lectured at more than 225 colleges and universities on race, diversity, women, leadership and restoring civility in politics. Brazile is the author of several books, including the New York Times’ bestseller “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.” @DonnaBrazile.

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