gun control

Guns N' Aussies

Rob Wilson / Shutterstock

Rob Wilson / Shutterstock

THE LAST GUN-MURDER massacre in Australia happened in April 1996.

I remember it clearly. My wife and I were preparing to move from our home in Sydney to California, where I’d been accepted to study at Fuller Theological Seminary. After 13 years of a Labor government in Australia, Conservative John Howard had just been elected prime minister. My wife and I joked that it was a good time to leave the country. Then the Port Arthur massacre occurred—35 people were killed, 23 were wounded.

What happened next was astounding. The senior leaders of both major political parties, at both the federal and state levels, faced down opponents and enacted far-reaching and effective new gun laws.

What came to be called the National Firearms Agreement banned the importation, sale, and possession of all automatic and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns (most handguns were already illegal) and enacted a compulsory gun buy-back scheme.

The new agreement for gun ownership allowed guns to the military, police, and those employed to shoot feral animals. The new federal laws were enacted unilaterally across state rights. Controversially in light of Second Amendment rights in the U.S., the act specifically stated “that personal protection not be regarded as a genuine reason for owning, possessing, or using a firearm.” However, genuine reasons included “sporting shooters” with valid club memberships, hunters with proof of permission, and “bona fide collectors of lawful firearms.”

The new gun laws were passed quickly, accompanied by an amnesty for any unlicensed firearms.

As we packed our bags to move to the United States, images filled the nightly television news of police stations across Australia full of firearms of varying shapes, sizes, and states of legality. These were guns that were voluntarily surrendered, in addition to those gathered through the formal buy-back program.It was more than politics. It was a national moment.

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How Many Tears?

Gina Jacobs / Shutterstock

Gina Jacobs / Shutterstock

EARLY THIS YEAR, I was invited to the White House for an important meeting. A young couple entered at the same time I did, carrying their baby—which struck me as unusual for a meeting with leaders at the White House.

They introduced themselves and their 15-month-old daughter. Then the couple told me this: “Her 6-year-old sister was shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.”

Then I understood. They were there for the same meeting I was—President Obama’s announcement of new executive actions on background checks and other gun enforcement and safety issues.

The East Room of the White House was full of the victims and family members of victims of mass shootings, which occurred 372 times in 2015, killing 475 people and wounding 1,870. (As defined by the Mass Shooting Tracker, a mass shooting is any in which four or more people are shot.)

Many families that had lost children or parents were there. Former member of Congress Gabby Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, were there. Many remember the 2011 shooting in Tucson, Ariz., in which a man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia shot 19 people, including Rep. Giffords, six of whom were killed, including a 9-year-old girl.

IT WAS THE PEOPLE and the faces that most moved me—and moved the president. Much was made the next day of his emotional response. When he said, “Our unalienable right to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness—those rights were stripped from college kids in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara, and from high-schoolers in Columbine, and from first-graders in Newtown,” he had to wipe tears away from his eyes.

“Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” Obama said. “And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day.”

I have seldom seen President Obama so emotional. I know the hardest day of his presidency was when he had to go to Newtown to meet and talk to the families of the 26 students and teachers who had lost their lives to another mass shooter. And it is clear to me that Obama was responding as a dad who has two girls of his own.

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Gun Deaths Are No Accident

No guns, no gun deaths. That was the mantra ingrained in me from a young age. It is the line that runs through my head when I read reports stating that around 3,000 of the more than 30,000 gun-related deaths in the U.S. each year are of children. In 2015, 265 minors were responsible for accidental gun shootings and 83 of these children killed someone, often because they found a loaded gun in the house and were curious.

Texas Bishop Rips ‘Cowboy Mentality’ Against Gun Control

Dallas Bishop Kevin J. Farrell on Oct. 20, 2014. Photo courtesy of The Texas Catholic, via Catholic New Service

In a blistering critique of what he describes as congressional kowtowing to the “gun lobby,” the Roman Catholic bishop of Dallas is praising President Obama’s new actions on gun control and ripping the “cowboy mentality” that allows “open carry” laws like one that just went into effect in Texas.

“Thank God that someone finally has the courage to close the loopholes in our pitiful gun control laws to reduce the number of mass shootings, suicides and killings that have become a plague in our country,” Bishop Kevin Farrell wrote in a column, posted on his website on Tuesday.

What You Need to Know About Obama's Gun Control Plan

Sojourners / JP Keenan

Image via Sojourners / JP Keenan

The White House released the details of President Obama's latest executive action on Jan. 4, and the eagerly expected announcement will be suffixed by a live town hall meeting on gun control at 8 p.m. Thursday at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. While some are lamenting that the actions don't go far enough, the measures will tighten up existing laws.

The plan is divded into four topics: background checks, community safety, mental health, and gun safety technology. Here's what you need to know about each.

Guns and the Evangelical Christian

AT FIRST GLANCE, Abigail Disney’s documentary The Armor of Light seems straightforward: It’s about guns and escalation of mass shootings in the U.S. But at its core, the film looks at the complicated relationship between evangelical Christianity and this country’s gun culture. It is just as much about theology as it is about politics.

The film follows the story of Rob Schenck, a conservative evangelical minister whose strong pro-life views about abortion are at the center of his work and advocacy on Capitol Hill. But with each instance of gun violence he hears about, Schenck becomes convinced that calling himself pro-life rings hollow without a critical look at our gun culture. He can no longer ignore the association of guns with evangelical Christianity.

Schenck’s story intersects with that of Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. In 2012, Davis, a black teenager, was shot and killed at a Florida gas station in a dispute over the volume of his music. The man who fired the shots, a 45-year-old white male, tried to justify his actions by the “stand your ground” law, explaining he felt threatened by the presence of Davis and his three friends. In response to the death of her child and the following legal battle, McBath became involved in gun-control advocacy.

Coming to the issue from different paths, McBath and Schenck find themselves both allies and foils. McBath, the mother whose son was murdered for being black and present, identifies as pro-choice, while Schenck gained national attention for protesting women’s health clinics in the early 1990s in Buffalo, N.Y.

This already has the makings of a compelling story, but the film hits its stride not in character development but in the theological questions it poses. In addition to discussing the effects of gun violence on those who are killed, Schenck questions what this pervasive gun culture does to those who defend it.

He pushes against the platitude “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” asking who can definitively categorize others in such black-and-white terms. Likewise, the film asks why so many Christians seem to place more trust in a piece of metal than in God. McBath tells Schenck, “We have replaced God with our guns as the protector.”

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Australia’s Tipping Point: ‘No One Was Taking Our Guns, We Were Giving Them Up’

Port Arthur memorial garden

Port Arthur memorial garden, by Michael Rawle / Flickr.com

“Death has taken its toll. / Some pain knows no release / but the knowledge / of brave compassion / shines like a pool of peace.”

These words are engraved on the memorial pond at the Port Arthur mass shooting site in Australia. Nearby, a wooden cross is inscribed with the names of the 35 men, women, and children who died here. In contrast, a brochure at hand provides a simple explanation of what occurred in this place; it notably does not name the gunman. 1996: Australia’s last mass gun death.

Pray, Yes. But Then Act.

The epidemic of gun violence in America has become the new normal. We can’t just blame it on the brokenness of the world, pray for peace, and move on, worried that anything more will be seen as politicizing tragedy. What is tragic is that those who have the ability to DO something about this crisis refuse to offer more than simplistic sentiments on Twitter before getting caught in a circular argument about our rights as Americans. It’s time for people of faith to respond out of their faith and work to stop senseless violence. As Nicholas Kristoff wrote in the New York Times today: “It’s not clear what policy, if any, could have prevented the killings in San Bernardino. Not every shooting is preventable. But we’re not even trying.” Common sense measures like universal background checks — which is supported by 85 percent of Americans — would be a good start.

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