Gun Violence, Hero Leaders, and Freedom

Photo by Jason Leung from

I found myself thinking this week a lot about my friend Greg Cantori’s post last week about who are our heroes and why? Greg called out for all of us the importance of honoring heroes who are working to bring about lasting, radical change to broken systems. As we celebrate our national birthday and “freedom day” in the United States, I am grateful for the freedoms we have and deeply saddened and frustrated by the persistence of so many ways we block freedom for all.

Gun violence and the epidemic of mass shootings in the United States have been on my mind as I thought about heroes and leaders. A priest friend of mine, Joe Muth, leads our liturgy at our small intentional Catholic Community every couple of months. Recently he has begun his sermons with a report on mass shootings in the United States. This past Sunday he painfully shared that there have been 300 mass shootings (a shooting in which four or more people were injured or killed) in the United States since the beginning of 2023.

Sadly, we now have a Gun Violence Archive which tracks mass shootings, suicides and other injuries and losses caused by guns in the US. I am deeply troubled by the alarming increase in mass shootings that have occurred over the past 5 years. There were over 600 mass shootings annually in 2021 and in 2022.

As depressing as these statistics are, we have become numb to their meaning and appear impotent to make real change. There are many hero leaders advocating for state and national legislation to make guns less available and mass shootings less common. But we seem stuck and overwhelmed by the complexity. Pro-gun advocates like to shift attention to our mental health crisis. Indeed, one reason for our mass shooting epidemic is our mental health epidemic. Both are difficult to talk about.  Building coalitions that work for real systemic change is also difficult

We have hero leaders working on systemic change to decrease gun violence and to increase access to mental health services. Brady United is a decades-long coalition working to change gun access in the US. Reflecting my inattention to this issue, I didn’t realize until I began researching for this post that June is National Gun Violence Awareness month.

Father Joe went beyond updating statistics this past Sunday. He told the story of how recently the people of Serbia were so upset with just two mass shootings this year that they organized a successful voluntary program to surrender firearms. A New York Times article paints a more complicated picture of guns and violence in Serbia. Father Joe’s source painted a more positive picture of the action in Serbia to stop gun violence. The NY Times focused more on opposition to reducing access to guns and the challenges of reform. The point is that ordinary citizens were appalled by two mass shootings and began to act. And this occurred in a country like the US where many people own guns.

None of this news points to a solution or a united path forward.  Where are the leaders from the labor unions, churches, student organizations and so many others who came together to fight for civil rights and an end to the Vietnam War? Romantically dreaming about the past doesn’t change anything today. Each of us is free to speak up as Father Joe does regularly about the insanity of our tolerance of an out-of-control gun culture. Whatever influence or power we have, how do we use it to broaden support for positive change?

There are numerous hero leaders working on gun violence, and polls repeatedly show broad support among American voters for action on the issue. What will it take for the leaders and the general public to coalesce into a mass movement for change? How hero leaders might unite and connect with average citizens for long-term change isn’t clear to me. There are lots of opportunities and no simple answers. Full community engagement raises the odds for lasting change on gun violence… and on other pressing social issues of our day. And perhaps over time, we can become the nation of freedom we aspire to be.  


  1. MaryP

    So very sadly, it seems to me that we don’t “do” anything because that always “happens to someone else.” As I read your post, I kept thinking, “What would it take for ME to get involved?” Shamefully and honestly, I realized it would take the loss of a loved one to stir me to action; however, I realized also that I would not know what to do… or where to go to connect with others.

    • Don Perkinson

      One could add that one of the reasons for our mental health epidemic is our mass shooting epidemic.
      As always. Thanks Tom

      Don Perkinson

      • Tom Adams

        Thanks Don for weighing in. Blessings on your travels, Tom

    • Tom Adams

      Thanks Mary, I suspect there are a lot of us who don’t see a clear path to action that makes a difference. Without a vision the people perish. Hopefully a vision is in process of emerging. Peace, Tom

  2. sally mac

    Thx, Tom for mentioning Brady and June as an awareness month.
    There are also March for our Lives and Moms Demand Action. The latter holds an annual rally in GA’s Assembly to foment change and support legislators trying to make a difference.
    We can applaud them, and pay attention to young people like the TN statesmen, the 2 Justins.
    Putting our money where our mouth is always helps….

    • Tom Adams

      Thanks Sally for more concrete examples of what is happening and options for action. Willingness without action is fabtasy, a friend remidns me often! Peace, Tom

  3. Greg Cantori

    I feel the corrective path forward is pretty clear but we are unwilling to even consider, much less implement, them – This from someone who has been targeted (not random) and shot at three separate times and lived to type these words.
    – Reparations without conditions.
    – Amending the 2nd Amendment to allow banning weapons and ammunition of war and strictly regulating other guns.
    – Universal Health Care to include unfettered health care of all types.
    – Universal free higher and technical school education
    – Universally free child care for working parents
    – Amdneding our zoning to allow anyone to live anywhere they need.
    Back to our shootings……