This year has been difficult beyond description for so many people. While the COVID-19 pandemic has understandably occupied front pages across the country and around the globe for much of the past six months, another destructive wave continues to fester, creating so much pain and grief: our national plague of gun violence, which claims 100 lives a day. Together, the two crises have become a toxic combination.
Gun violence was a national health crisis long before COVID-19 hit us, is still a crisis amid the pandemic, and, unless we take action, will remain a crisis long after. As we grieve the loss of life each day from COVID-19, we must continue with renewed urgency to save the preventable lives of the 38,000 people killed each year by guns.
Not every home is a safe place to weather this coronavirus storm. Domestic violence is believed to be on the rise, as people are confined in their homes and not working. We know that the presence of a gun makes domestic violence more deadly, and this pandemic is no exception. A gun in the home makes it five times more likely that an abused woman will become a victim of domestic homicide.
Fear from the pandemic and panic around the racial justice awakening have created a record wave in gun sales, with nearly 2 million gun purchased in March. We’ve seen armed militia groups marching on capitals and gun deaths increasing at 200-300 percent in some U.S. cities this year. We are seeing one tragedy after another, most recently in a terrible shooting at a Chicago funeral that left more than a dozen people critically wounded — a depressingly familiar sight in an otherwise unprecedented year.
In this continuing crisis, the current lack of regulations on who can purchase a firearm is irresponsible, even fatal. Our country needs our prayers and our actions. God doesn’t change laws — we do. And it is time for us to face up to both the spiritual and political crisis in our country and make some changes. Just as the U.S. is leading the world in COVID-19 deaths, we are also leading the world in gun deaths – with 8 out of every 10 gun deaths in the industrialized world happening right here in the U.S. This is tragic and unacceptable.
Earlier this year, I was asked to join an interfaith partnership with Everytown to mobilize people in pursuit of gun safety during the upcoming elections. Faith leaders and religious communities will be working to emphasize the importance of gun safety for candidates of all parties. Commonsense gun regulations are supported by majorities of both parties and a majority of gun owners.
I am reminded that the Bible says that Jesus wept over Jerusalem because they didn’t know what would lead to peace. Without a doubt, Jesus is weeping over America right now. So let us resolve to work together — people of all faiths and no faith in particular — to stand on the side of life and love and reject the fear that prompts the frenzied purchase of firearms during a pandemic. May we reject the strange theology that says we don’t need masks to protect us, but we do need guns. Let us tear down our idols — those things that we treat as if they have supernatural power, and to which we attribute godlike power even though they are not godly at all. Just as scripture warns us not to put our trust in “chariots or horses,” let us refuse to put our trust in our guns and weaponry, but in God alone. Let us live into the vision of the ancient prophets where we beat our “swords into plowshares” … or as I like to say, beat our guns into garden tools.
The faith community has seen firsthand the devastating effects of gun violence in places of worship: Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and so many more. As followers of Christ, we must work to end the violence that threatens worshipers in congregations, abuse victims at home, and our children in their schools. Gun safety is a life-or death-issue we cannot ignore.