Published by IVP on July 20, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Memoir, Politics
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Taylor Schumann never thought she'd be a victim of gun violence. But one spring day a man with a shotgun walked into her workplace and opened fire on her. While she survived, she was left with permanent wounds, both visible and invisible. In When Thoughts and Prayers Aren't Enough, Taylor invites us to see what it means to be a survivor after the news vehicles drive away and the media moves on. Healing is slow and complicated. As she suffered through surgeries, grueling rehabilitation, and counseling to repair the physical injuries and emotional trauma, she came face to face with the deep and lasting impact of gun violence. As she began grappling with the realities, Taylor experienced another painful truth: Christians have largely been absent from this issue. Gun violence undercuts God's vision of abundant life and community--and the silence of the church rings loudly in the ears of survivors and families of victims. Taylor weaves her own incredible story of survival and recovery into a larger conversation about gun violence in our country. With compassion and honesty, she encourages readers to reconsider their own engagement with the issue and to join her in envisioning a more hopeful, safer future for our nation. Move beyond thoughts and prayers and enter into grace-filled dialogue and action.
When I first became aware of this book, I expected it to be like the gun control threads that I have read on Twitter. The memoir element of the book greatly interested me, but I didn’t want to put myself through two hundred pages of manipulative, poorly argued, ad hominem attacks on anyone who didn’t share the author’s political views, so I waited to get an idea from early reviews whether this would be worth reading or not. Thankfully, the general consensus was that this author wrote about her challenging topic with grace, nuance, intellectual honesty, and sincere compassion for other people. I decided to give this a try, and I am so glad that I did.
A Powerful Memoir
When Thoughts and Prayers Aren’t Enough: A Shooting Survivor’s Journey into the Realities of Gun Violence is an intense and powerful book. Schumann shares her personal story in a vivid, meaningful way, and she gives a sense of the trauma that she went through without including too many graphic details for sensitive readers. This book is appropriate for both teenagers and adults, and throughout the first half of the book, Schumann shares the heart-wrenching story of the shooting she survived, her many challenges in recovery, and the emotional and spiritual struggles that she faced because of her trauma. I related to aspects of her struggles from the perspective of my own, very different life issues, and even though this book could be very triggering for someone who has been through a shooting or any other severe trauma, Schumann writes with deep empathy, insight, and care.
Schumann also shares about unique challenges that she has faced as a Christian speaking out about gun violence. She expresses her disappointment with the American church’s reluctance to address this issue, and she writes about the frustrating experiences she has had with both Internet trolls and personal friends judging her motives and dismissing her arguments unfairly. Throughout the book, Schumann makes a case for why Christians should care about gun violence, emphasizing that we cannot love our neighbors without being deeply concerned about the things that harm them. She also focuses on ripple effects that go beyond individuals and their affected families, making a case for why gun violence is such a severe issue in all of American society. However, she maintains respect for those who disagree with her, knowing that they often share the same goals while approaching them from different perspectives.
A Balanced Perspective
In the second half of the book, Schumann writes clearly and succinctly about legal and social issues related to guns, making a case for reform laws. She respects responsible gun owners, many of which are her own relatives and friends, and this book never becomes a political screed. Schumann writes in a data-based style, sharing facts and supporting them with stories. She makes a strong case for why Americans should support gun laws that are proven to reduce the level of violence in homes, towns, and cities, regardless of their opinions on personal gun ownership.
Schumann conducted an extraordinary amount of research to write this book, but she doesn’t deluge the reader in too much information. She focuses on the importance of keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, children and teens, and mentally ill people with patterns of erratic behavior, and she shares examples of reasonable, protective gun laws that have reduced levels of violence in the states that have them. She also writes about the importance of safe storage laws that help protect kids and adults from guns in their homes.
Even though some people will disagree with her conclusions or wish she had addressed additional perspectives, she writes in a facts-based, informative way that encourages an honest appraisal of social issues and what we can do to alleviate them. She doesn’t make sweeping claims about completely ending all gun violence, and points out that we don’t avoid other protective laws just because they aren’t perfect. We try to prevent traffic deaths not because we think that we can have perfectly safe roads, but because common sense laws can make the roads safer than otherwise. She encourages people to not dismiss gun reform laws based on standards they wouldn’t hold other public safety laws to.
One Main Critique
What greatly disappointed me about this book was Schumann’s unfair take on the idea of a “good guy with a gun” stopping a shooter. Although she makes a data-based argument for why we should want fewer guns around, not more, she doesn’t take into account very real examples of people using their concealed carry guns at exactly the right moment, using their training, preparation, and courage to take down an open shooter. She actually refers to this concept as a “myth,” and I was horrified.
It is one thing to say that these instances are statistically insignificant in comparison to the number of shootings that happen in America or the danger that guns pose, and it is quite another to claim that it is a myth, when there are a lot of real people out there who have saved people’s lives with their concealed carry guns. Considering how well-reasoned and accurate the rest of this book is, I would attribute this to very poor wording and nothing more, but given how much this turned me off, people who are not sympathetic to Schumann’s other arguments will be much more disturbed by this. I would still recommend this to people who disagree with Schumann’s politics, because this book has a lot of great information to offer, but this will justifiably damage her credibility in many people’s eyes.
This powerful, well-written book is a wonderful resource for people who want to learn more about gun violence. The first half makes people aware of common experiences that shooting survivors face during attacks and in the aftermath of violence, and the second half provides a carefully researched, balanced take on reasonable reform laws that can reduce levels of violence and keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. Due to Schumann’s general respect and balanced perspective, I would recommend this to people regardless of their political affiliation, since the data-driven, compassionate approach can help people refine their own views and arguments with information they may have never known or considered. I would recommend this book to anyone with an open mind and concern for justice, regardless of their personal opinions on guns.