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    Thoughts and Prayers Are Simply Not Enough

    By Brett Andrews–

    I grew up in Pennsylvania, and was raised in a home that was moderately religious, had solid values, and a bent for manners and politeness. It was quite common to hear folks in my town extending their condolences or offering prayers of support and encouragement to someone experiencing difficulty. What also came with those thoughts and prayers were good deeds in the form of a covered dish of food, or groceries, an offer to babysit, a listening ear and a supportive shoulder, and sometimes just straight-out money to help get someone through a rough patch.

    These gestures—great and small—were merely expressions of shared and abiding community values, knowing that any moment we could find ourselves in a similar situation. In many ways, I feel that the collective values of caring for our fellow man have waned, and have been replaced with an environment of scarcity and fear; one with a developing thought and corresponding behaviors that manifest in the most selfish and deviant of ways.

    It is inconceivable for me to see someone in pain or in need, and not to do something, anything, to help. That is why I am, as I know many are, at a loss for words when I learn about another mass shooting, the latest in Parkland, Florida. My immediate internal response is to say, “What can I do?” Unfortunately, the empathy I feel is quickly eclipsed by my frustration, anger, and disbelief over our inability and/or unwillingness to solve this particular societal ill in a way that protects and preserves the rights of the second amendment, while keeping our streets and schools safe from harm.

    My way of making some sense of it all is to accept the fact that there is simply a lack of will, from many sides. The question I pose, given the profound and lasting impacts of Parkland, Orlando, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and the Las Vegas shootings, among so many others, is under what set of circumstances will it take for lawmakers and gun rights activists to come together and address the issue, once and for all?

    Applying broad-brush reasoning that all of these shooters have a mental health issue is basically conceding that all you have is a hammer in your toolbox, and that these tragic and unconscionable acts are just a nail. While I have no clear understanding of how many shooters suffered from mental illness, I do know that 100% of them had a gun, most semi-automatic—that is indisputable. For anyone who has a fundamental understanding of probability and statistics, it is glaringly clear: that percentage has statistical significance. So, let’s start the conversation right there.

    It has been said that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. I fear that is where we find ourselves at this moment. Thoughts and prayers are simply not enough. They have to be matched with deeds. And those deeds need to be courageous and untethered by unhealthy and uninformed protectionism, blind political ambition, and the oppression and stasis of learned helplessness.

    Brett Andrews is the Chief Executive Director of PRC (, which is the only place for people living with HIV/AIDS or mental health disabilities to get comprehensive benefits counseling and employment services in San Francisco. Andrews is a member of the San Francisco HIV/AIDS Provider Network, the San Francisco Human Services Network and the Mayor’s CBO Taskforce. He additionally serves on the Board of the National Working Positive Coalition.