gun control

Respect for a Father’s Grief

Neil Helin testifying in a Connecticut gun violence hearing.

Neil Helin testifying in a Connecticut gun violence hearing.

We know we are addicted to something when that behavior damages our relationships with people. When alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, or work is more important than mother, father, husband, wife, child, friend, or neighbor, we know we have a problem. Similarly, we know that we are worshipping an idol when a created thing becomes more important than the Creator, when we put our faith in our fears and a dead thing that cannot love us back becomes the object of our ultimate concern. We know we are worshipping an idol when our devotion fails to cause us to love and to respect our neighbor.

In a Connecticut hearing about gun violence, Neil Heslin — a father whose son died in the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School —asked why any one individual citizen needs military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. People in the room answered by quoting the Second Amendment. In this case, the Second Amendment was more important than this father’s pain. Their lack of respect for his pain indicated a deficit of both compassion and love, not only for this grieving father but for a grieving nation.

Let us be clear. The Second Amendment is not holy writ, and a gun is not God. Far too many Americans have made these created things, these inanimate objects more important than the compassion we ought to have for one another. This is fetishism. This is idolatry. This is morally wrong.

Giffords at Gun Hearing: 'Be Bold'

The Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on gun control in the new Congress this morning. The first witness was former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who survived being shot in the head two years ago.  

Here, via CBS News, is her statement.

"Thank you for inviting me here today. This is an important conversation for our children, for our communities, for Democrats, and Republicans.

"Speaking is difficult but I need to say something important.

"Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying — too many children. We must do something.

"It will be hard. But the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be Courageous. Americans are counting on you. Thank you."

Other witnesses included Gifford’s husband Mark Kelly, James Johnson, chief of police for Baltimore County, Md., and chairman of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, and Wayne LaPierre, CEO and Executive Vice President of the NRA.

Death in Broad Daylight: A Childhood Memory

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Obama signs executive orders on new gun law proposals with children. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

When I was a little girl, my mother and I prayed together every night:

Now I lay me down to sleep.

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

If I should die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.

And then I would ask God to bless a list of people who were on my mind.

Every night I spoke about my own death, but death was not real. It never occurred to me that I would die or that my parents would die.

One day when I was in the fifth grade, we heard gun shots outside our school. Our teachers did not let us go outside for recess that day because a woman had been killed, caught in the crossfire of a domestic dispute between her son and his wife. By the time school was out, the body had been removed; there was no yellow crime scene tape. There was still blood on the ground to mark the spot of this tragic death. The next day it would be washed away.

PHOTOS: Families Affected by Gun Violence March on Washington

Photo by Krystal Brewer / Sojourners

Photo by Krystal Brewer / Sojourners

Over the weekend I joined more than 6,000 people in a march for common sense gun control legislation.

The ground was covered in snow and ice, air so cold we could see our breath, on Saturday morning as we marched silently from the Capitol Building to the Washington Monument. In front of me, 100 residents from Newtown Conn., carried signs that read, “We Are Sandy Hook.” By my side stood an elderly woman with a sign reading, “Guns kill people. People kill people. Let’s work on both TOGETHER.” 

Behind me, beside me, and scattered throughout the crowd of silent marchers more than 1,000 simple white signs were also displayed — carrying the names of victims of gun violence who have been permanently silenced.

They were names like Charlotte Colton, a mother of three who was gunned down along with seven other people at a U.S. Postal Service facility in Goleta, Calif. 

Names like Laura Webb, who was shot and killed in a salon while styling her mother’s hair in a massacre that killed eight people.

Names like Vanessa Quinn, 29, one of four victims gunned down in a mall in Utah while she was picking out her wedding ring. 

The Courage to Reject our Culture of Violence

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Participants with One Million Moms for Gun Control march across the Brooklyn Bridge on January 21. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Much has been said, since the massacre at Newtown, Conn., about our American culture of violence. It is no exaggeration. In 2012, the United States had three mass shootings within six months. According to a study published in the Washington Post, our nation’s gun murder rate is roughly 20 times the average of all other developed countries.

We should not be surprised. Not only have we created a culture of violence, we glorify violence in our movies, television shows, and video games. Even in pro sports, players increasingly settle disagreements on the court or field with physical altercations, reinforced by the cheers of raved fans.  

The huge surge in gun sales, after President Barack Obama announced his intent to have Vice President Joe Biden make recommendations to curb gun violence, attests to the misguided fears of many Americans. 

We have a paranoid citizenry who, like Sen. Rand Paul (R – Ky.), mistakenly falls into the delusion that arming more people with guns is the answer.  

So here America is, coping with this assault on our sensibility, at a time during the year when we celebrate the teaching of the great civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was King who successfully applied the force of nonviolent resistance to end segregation in America, and it is his voice we must listen to in this time of increasing violence in our culture.  

Help End the NRA’s Dangerous Idolatry of Guns

“Idolatry of guns.” What does that mean, exactly?

It might be hard to admit, but if you think about it, you can see that many groups in the United States see guns as sacred. Guns are not only the solution to our problems, they will save us from evil. Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, stated this himself: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Do we really believe this? If we stop and think about it, we don’t. Our protection does not come from guns, and we do not live in a binary society of good and evil, where the right to hold dangerous weapons can be allocated to people who are entirely virtuous.

What’s Going On: Mobilizing Against Gun Violence

Photo by majunznk / Flickr

Protestors gather outside the NRA's Washington, D.C. office on Dec. 17, 2012. Photo by majunznk / Flickr

When I was in high school, my family moved from a Black Chicago Southside neighborhood fraught with gang tensions to a nice, multiracial middle-class community further south. Yet, my mom and dad still drove my brothers everywhere, so they would not get shot walking to the basketball court or to a friend’s home because of their shoes, their coat, or the color of their shirt. It was the ’70s and Marvin Gaye’s anthem asked the question on the minds of a generation: What’s going on? 

Decades later, it is still my question. Six Sikhs killed in worship in Wisconsin. Thirty-three shot dead at Virginia Tech. Twelve killed and 58 injured in a movie theater in Aurora. One teacher and 12 students at Columbine. Six women, eight little boys, and 12 little girls in classrooms in Newtown. Those babies still had their baby teeth. What’s going on? 

Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, cites these stats in her recent Huffington Post blog: 119,079 children and teens have been killed by gun violence in our nation since 1979. It is as though 4,763 classrooms of young people have been killed by guns. Twenty-two times more children and teens have been killed since 1979 than military personnel in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. That cracks my heart wide open.

The shootings at Sandy Hook took our breath away. We felt in our hearts, this could happen to my child, to my neighbor’s child, and in my community. Unfortunately, in many communities, like my neighborhood in Chicago, we’ve known for a very long time that our children were in the line of fire.

Obama, Biden Announce Gun Violence Reduction Plan

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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during his final news conference of his first term. Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden announced today a comprehensive plan to address gun violence in the wake of mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo. The plan includes calling on Congress to require universal background checks, restore a ban on military-style assault weapons and 10-round limit to magazines, and implement stronger punishment for gun trafficking. The plan also includes measures aimed at increasing school safety and access to mental health services.

"This is our first task as a society: keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged," Obama said, accompanied children who wrote to the White House calling for an end to gun violence. 

In the 33 days since the Sandy Hook shooting, "more than 900 of our fellow Americans have reportedly died at the end of a gun," Obama said. "… every day we wait, that number will keep growing."

Biden, who has met with more than 200 groups representing various interests including law enforcement and people of faith, said the nation has a "moral obligation" to do everything in its power to address gun violence.

The announcement comes a day after faith leaders, including Sojourners president and CEO Jim Wallis, publicly called for many of the same measures, including reinstating the assault weapons ban, closing background check loopholes, and making gun trafficking a federal crime.

Religious Coalition Takes on the Gun Lobby


Jim Wallis speaks during a press conference at the United Methodist Building. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Dozens of the nation’s faith leaders said on Tuesday that they’re ready to take on the gun lobby and demanded that politicians take quick and concrete steps to stem gun violence.

At a Capitol Hill press conference and in a letter to Congress, more than 45 clergy and heads of religious groups — representing the spectrum of American religious life — petitioned lawmakers to reinstitute a ban on assault weapons, require background checks on all gun buyers, and make gun trafficking a federal crime.

Organized by the two-year-old coalition Faiths United To Prevent Gun Violence, the signers said the slayings at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school last month had pushed them to redouble their efforts, and created an opportunity to beat back the gun lobby.

The Rev. Jim Wallis, the evangelical who heads the progressive Christian group Sojourners, took on Wayne LaPierre, the outspoken executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, directly.

LaPierre’s statement after Newtown that the “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” is “morally mistaken” and “religiously repugnant,” Wallis said.