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September 14, 2007

Amish Teach Valuable Lesson of Forgiveness

We are quickly approaching the one-year anniversary of the tragic shooting that claimed the lives of five young Amish girls on October 2, 2006. Charles Carl Roberts barricaded himself inside an Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Shortly thereafter, he shot ten girls, aged seven to 13. The girls were shot "execution style" in the back of the head; five survived. Robert's arsenal included a 9mm handgun, a 12-gauge shotgun, a bolt-action rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

Hidden in the news today was a small story about the aftermath of this tragedy. A charity set up to help families of the victims of the shooting has bequeathed an undisclosed amount of money to Roberts' wife (who has three daughters) at the behest of the Amish community. Even on the day of the shooting, the grandfather of one of the slain girls said, "We must not think evil of this man."

The kind of forgiveness displayed by the Lancaster Amish community is a rarity in our society today. More and more we are taught to seek revenge and to solve our problems with violence. The gun lobby is at the forefront of this "Shoot First" movement, advocating for measures in state legislatures that allow a person to use deadly force as their first line of defense when threatened, rather than as their last. Tied into this campaign is the NRA's support for guns on college campuses and the organization's claim that widespread concealed carry of handguns will lead to less crime. This absurd notion, that more guns make us safer, directly fuels the culture of violence in the United States.

Violence also permeates our entertainment industry. The premise of two recently released movies is solely to glorify revenge-fueled acts of violence as if they were great acts of courage. These movies are "Death Sentence," and "The Brave One," whose taglines read "Protect what's yours," and "How many wrongs to make it right?" respectively. Along with Clive Owens' "Shoot 'Em Up," these revenge stories could easily double as advertisements for Shoot First legislation.

We can all learn a valuable lesson from the Amish community and change our commitment to violence to a commitment to peace. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Forgiveness is not an occasional act: it is an attitude."

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