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.
At Sojourners, people are just getting back from their holiday breaks with their families and some will still be out this week. D.C. public schools don’t even start until next week for my two boys.
Of course, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives came back early to avoid sending the nation off of the “fiscal cliff.” For the first time in two decades, taxes were increased for the wealthiest two percent, something most Americans support. And programs the Circle of Protection seeks to protect for the most vulnerable, including important tax credits that have kept millions of Americans out of poverty, were kept safe in the final deal.
The legislators barely succeeded in coming to a compromise but largely avoided the more challenging issues of the automatic spending cuts known as “sequestration” and an agreement on long-term deficit reduction. The compromise delayed the sequester for two months, which means it will kick in around the same time as an anticipated debt ceiling fight in which Republicans say they will force the nation into default unless they get the spending cuts they want.
As reflected in this deal, I applaud the President's continued commitment to protect poor and vulnerable people. I encourage him to remain steadfast in his refusal to negotiate. However, it remains to be seen whether the President will continue on in his refusal to negotiate on such important matters with those risking our nation’s economic health to advance their own political ideology.
Our deepest question now is whether what happed on Friday — and what has focused the attention of the entire nation — will touch the nation’s soul or just make headlines for a few days.
I think that will be up to us as parents — to respond as parents. The brutal shooting of 20 six- and seven-year-old school children in their own classrooms touches all of us, and as the father of two young boys I’m especially struck how it touches parents. From the heartbreak of the parents in Newtown to the tears in the eyes of Barack Obama as he responded — not just as the President, but also as the father of two daughters — to the faces of the first responders and reporters who are parents. I have felt the pain and seen the look on the face of every parent I have talked with since this horrendous event occurred. Virtually every mother and father in America this weekend has turned their grieving gaze on their own children, realizing how easily this could have happened to them. The emotions we’ve seen from the Newtown parents whose children survived, and the feelings of utter grief for those parents whose children didn’t, have reached directly to me.
Saturday, the day after the Connecticut massacre, Joy and I went to our son Jack’s basketball game. The kids on the court were all the same ages as the children who were killed on Friday. I kept looking at them one by one, feeling how fragile their lives are.
Our first response to what happened in Newtown must be toward our own children. To be so thankful for the gift and grace they are to us. To be ever more conscious of them and what they need from us. To just enjoy them and be reminded to slowly and attentively take the time and the space to just be with them. To honor the grief of those mothers and fathers in Connecticut who have so painfully just lost their children, we must love and attend to ours in an even deeper way.
ON A WARM evening this June, a group of faith-based activists stood outside Realco Guns Inc. in the Washington, D.C. suburb of District Heights, Md., with signs asking drivers to honk in favor of ending gun violence. Almost every driver passing through rush-hour traffic obliged. Supporters, many waving and cheering from open windows, varied in age, race, and car model. Protesters estimated they heard 350 honks that day, more than twice that of their first protest exactly a year before.
“One out of every eight guns that Realco has sold has ended up in crime,” protest organizer Rev. James E. Atwood told Sojourners. He and his team are part of Heeding God’s Call, an ecumenical movement raising awareness about gun violence in the United States.
Atwood was citing a 2010 investigative report by The Washington Post. The report, which drew on state databases and local police evidence logs, showed that during the 18 years prior, police recovered more than 2,500 Realco guns, including weapons linked to 86 deaths and 300 non-fatal shootings, assaults, and robberies in the Washington, D.C. area. Many of the guns involved were purchased by so-called “straw buyers” and then passed to third parties—often people who, due to criminal records or history of mental illness, were barred by law from buying firearms.
One reason the Post report is valuable is that, since 2003, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has been prohibited by Congress from sharing similar information from its firearms trace database (except with authorities working on specific crime cases). Before the data blackout, a 2000 report indicated that a handful of U.S. gun retailers—1.2 percent of around 83,000 registered businesses—had ties to nearly 60 percent of the crime guns police traced to an active dealer.
After the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., and a deadly shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., Americans are divided on gun control, and within certain religious groups, attitudes are far from ambivalent.
But on the question of guns in churches, there is actual consensus: A strong majority of Americans don’t want them in the pews, according to a new poll released Wednesday (Aug. 15) by the Public Religion Research Institute conducted in partnership with Religion News Service.
"Although the issue of gun control tends to divide Americans by party, gender, region and race, there is broad agreement among the public that there are some places where concealed weapons should be off limits," said Daniel Cox, PRRI’s research director.
All children growing up in poverty are noble, beautiful flowers growing through cracks in concrete sidewalks. They are vulnerable to the frost of hunger, the hard rains of sickness, and the crushing footsteps of violence.
Those children would have filled 229 public school classrooms of 25 students each. Because of gun violence, desks now sit empty that might have held the next great scientist or writer or parent for the world.
[Editors' note: Below is a hymn written by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette lamenting gun violence. We hope you find it helpful in light of the shootings in Arizona.]
At about midnight we heard the shots ring out. My friend ran to the door and I heard him yell, "Shane, a kid has been shot, come down." As we looked down the street we could see a young man staggering as he walked down our block. Then his knees gave out and he fell to the ground. We called for an ambulance and ran outside to be with the boy.
Even though we don't often weigh in on local D.C. political issues, the Sojourners policy team made an exception on a new piece of legislation that would have a direct impact on gun violence in the District. We signed Sojourners on to a faith-group letter last week opposing the bill described in this [...]