Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Mothers and religious community respond to the gun epidemic

The tragic shooting at Sandy Hook was a wake up call not only for America, but for the religious community. Nothing breaks the heart of a pastor more than having to say words of comfort at the funeral of a young person whose life has been cut short by gun violence. Yet all too often that’s what pastors are called to do. And that’s why many religious leaders here in Pasadena and around the country are calling for sensible gun regulation.
Nearly 3,000 children and teens are killed each year in gun-related deaths—either by homicide, suicide or accidents. Nearly 30,000 Americans die of gun deaths each year.
It doesn’t have to be this way. In Japan, fewer than 50 people a year die from gun-related deaths; in Germany, Italy and France, fewer than 150; and in Canada, fewer than 200. We in America can do better. Like Martin Luther King, who believed a better world is possible, we must believe it is possible to end gun violence and the massacre of children in America. With God's help, we can make a difference.
In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, religious communities throughout the country have taken steps to address the epidemic of violence in our nation.
Mothers who lost their children to gun violence at Sandy Hook went to Washington, DC, and pleaded with their elected officials to pass common-sense gun control regulation, to no avail. The legislators did not listen to the mothers or to the 90% of Americans who wanted such sensible gun control measures as universal background checks for gun purchases; instead, our legislators listened to the well-financed gun lobby and did nothing.
The religious community hasn’t given up on the mothers of America who yearn for a safe community, free from gun violence. On April 11 two Washington-based religious groups, Sojourners and PICO National Network, organized an interfaith prayer vigil on the National Mall in DC with over 3,000 crosses representing those who die in gun-related deaths since Sandy Hook.
Here in Pasadena, a gun buy back will take place at the police station and a “Peace-Source Fair” will take place near City Hall on Saturday, May 11 from 11 am – 2:00 pm. (See Pasadenagunbuyback.org). The religious community in Pasadena raised nearly $20,000 to organize this event in which gift cards will be given to those who turn in their unwanted guns. ($50 for a non-working gun, $100 for a pistol and $200 for an assault weapon.) Civic leaders and pastors will share moving and inspiring stories of what they are doing to help reduce gun violence in our community. There will be music, food and children’s activities at this family-friendly event.
Why are we having a gun buyback? How will it make a difference?
First, it is always a good idea to get unwanted guns out of homes lest they fall into the wrong hands, such as those of children or criminals.
Second, a gun buyback can make huge difference, if it has broad-based support. In 1996, a crazed shooter killed 35 people in Tasmania—the worst mass shoot in Australian history. The people of Australia were outraged and the government instituted a gun buyback back program which collected nearly 650,000 assault weapons and 50,000 additional weapons—about one sixth of the national stock. This, combined with sensible gun control laws, significantly reduced gun violence: since 1996, gun-related deaths have dropped by half, and there haven’t been any mass shootings in Australia. If cities across the United States organized voluntary gun buy back programs, and if voters insisted on holding their elected officials accountable, we might pressure them into instituting a national gun buy back program like the one in Australia, as well as some sensible gun control laws. Imagine how many lives would be saved!
The Palm Sunday Peace Parade Coalition, which sponsored the Gun Buyback and Peace-Source Fair, recommends that the following steps be taken to reduce gun violence:
· an assault weapon ban,
· universal background checks for gun purchaser
· more funding for psychological counseling (especially for at-risk teens
· gang prevention (including job training),
· nonviolence training in schools and elsewhere,
· addressing root issues that cause violence, such as the need for jobs and affordable housing in mixed income neighborhoods.
· supporting numerous programs in Pasadena (many of which are taking part in the Peace-source Fair) that aim at reducing violence.
Martin Luther King said the US is the largest purveyor of violence in the world, and it’s true. We spend more on guns, more on our military, than the rest of the world put together. Our addiction to violence infects our entire society, with dire consequences, especially for our children. What Jesus said two thousand years ago is true today: “Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” But the Bible teaches a better way, “turning swords into plowshares.” That’s the inspiration for and goal of our Gun Buy-back and Peace-source Fair.

PS Since writing this, I've learned that the NRA and gun advocates are exploiting a loophole in many civil codes requiring that police departments sell (not destroy) any items surrendered to them. The governor of Arizona even signed a state-wide bill to this effect. This would make gun buybacks irrelevant since any surrendered guns would have to be sold. Clearly what motivates this approach is not profit, but the idea that guns are sacred objects that should be cherished and protected in perpetuity. This kind of idolatry needs to be unmasked by the religious community. We also need to urge state and local officials to pass laws making it permissible for police to destroy unwanted guns, if that's what citizens request.



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