(Bob Tiller is a dear long-time friend and colleague of Dan Buttry who has been involved in peace and justice work for many decades. He recently wrote this article for “The Baptist Peacemaker.” Dan asked if we could post this as a guest blog, and Bob agreed. The context is the United States where some of those who follow this website are from. Those of you from other countries might find something of interest related to dealing with this struggle.)
Mass shootings continue to horrify us, especially in the United States, and they seem to slam us more frequently now. Each new event leads us to bouts of gut-wrenching despair, coupled with anger at our elected officials and at the pro-gun lobby. The massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last February, was the spring- board for marches, organizing, fundraising and more, but the momentum seems to have slowed.
Mass shootings, however horrible, comprise only a tiny sliver of total shootings in the US, and it is vital that we remember all victims of gun violence, not just those from Parkland, Las Vegas, Nevada (October 2017), Pittsburgh (October 2018) and other high-profile events. The numbers are astonishing: on an average day in the US more than 80 people die from gunshots, and more than 250 are wounded.
Since the beginning of this century, almost 2 million people have been shot in the US; more than half a million of those have died. Take a minute to let those numbers sink in. The figures cover all shootings—including murders, attempted murders, suicides, attempted suicides, accidents and self-defense. Gun violence is woven throughout the fabric of US society.
The pro-gun lobby, often echoed by elected officials, is pushing to normalize carrying guns. It strives to assure that guns are everywhere. They want guns in schools, churches, offices, restaurants, shopping malls—in short, everywhere. If their vision comes to pass, the result, of course, will be that guns are used more often and that gun violence becomes even more commonplace, including mass shootings. When something is seen, felt and experienced each day, we come to regard it as usual and normal, even if we once regarded it as beyond the pale. If the pro-gun lobby succeeds, we will all become inured to gun violence.
What can a Christian peacemaker do in the face of all this craziness with guns? At the outset, we must reaffirm that we live by faith, seeking to follow Jesus, and that our efforts are undertaken in a spirit of love. All change is incremental, and frequently snail-paced, so we will likely not bring about a major turnaround in our lifetime. Nevertheless, our faithful efforts to end gun violence can build small steps toward real change. Here is a list of possibilities. I urge you to pick a couple of them and do what you have the capacity to do.
What Churches Can Do
1. If your congregation has never had a program or sermon or an event related to gun violence, you can start by having a forum on “What Would Jesus Do (and Say) About Guns?” I believe that Christians ought to consider guns and gun violence as a faith issue, but such consideration seems to have eluded many congregations. Now is a good time to start.
2. National Gun Violence Awareness Day is June 2nd every year. This year it falls on a Sunday, so it is an excellent opportunity to address gun violence in worship. Here are some things your congregation might do:
• Ask everyone to wear orange, the color of gun violence prevention.
• Have prayers and litanies related to gun violence. (You can find many resources online. Look for the BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz Gun Violence Prevention Toolkit at bpfna.org/mobilize/resources.)
• Have a letter-writing table for letters to your elected officials.
• Ask members to give brief testimonies about how gun violence has touched their lives.
• Order gun violence prevention T-shirts with whatever words and art you choose.
3. Your congregation could undertake a process that leads to declaring your buildings and property a gun-free zone, i.e. no guns on the property for any reason. (Some churches make an exception for law enforcement officers who are acting in an emergency or on official business.) Pressing for this in your congregation may engender some difficult discussions— especially in an era when politicians announce that shootings can be prevented by having more people armed—but this should not be an insurmountable barrier.
What Individuals Can Do
1. Many US states have special-interest auto license plates that promote specific causes and groups (e.g., university alumni or pet spaying). In Virginia, a dedicated group re- searched the complex process and recently succeeded in getting license plates available that say “Stop Gun Violence.” They had to work with both the state bureaucracy and the legislature, and they had to obtain advance commitments from people who would pay an extra fee for the plates, but they got it done. You can research the requirements in your state and gather a group to work on it.
2. Creative initiatives around gun violence have popped up in states and cities across the US, and you might find opportunities to get the ball rolling for your ideas. For example, in New Haven, Connecicut, the city government announced that it would buy back guns and turn them into garden tools. As a result, 141 weapons of death were recently purchased by the city and duly made into tools for the production of flowers and vegetables. The symbolism alone is worth the effort.
3. You can join a vigil to commemorate the December 14, 2012, massacre of school children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut—or organize a vigil if there is none near you. A major annual vigil/worship is held in Washington, DC, every December, drawing people from all over the country. Churches, synagogues and secular groups in all 50 US states hold gun violence vigils and events in the first half of December.
In some locations, a vigil is held on the 14th of each month, not just in December. If you are within a few hours’ drive of Washington, DC, you can join the monthly vigil at National Rifle Association (NRA) headquarters, always at 10:00 a.m. on the 14th of every month, rain or shine (except it is at 2:00 p.m. when the 14th is a Sunday).
4. The fall election brought the US a new Congress, which convened on January 3rd. Although many issues will compete for attention on Capitol Hill, we can expect some interest in gun matters. US readers can write to your representative and your two senators to tell them your concerns about widespread gun violence across our country, and urge them to support specific legislative initiatives. The best way to write to them is to use each one’s website.
Here are five topics that might gain some traction in Congress this year:
• A requirement for background checks on all gun sales (not just on some),
• An end to the loophole that allows some men convicted of domestic violence to own guns (probably as part of the Violence Against Women Act),
• A federal ban on the purchase and sale of assault weapons (similar to the ban in place 1994-2004),
• A resumption of allowing federal funds to be used for research on the causes of gun violence, and
• A federal ban on 3-D printed guns, which one observer termed “downloadable death.”
Here are four more topics which are unlikely to gain traction in Congress, but which which elected officials nevertheless need to hear about from their constituents:
• Enacting a mandatory waiting period for all gun purchases,
• Ending the loophole that allows a gun sale to proceed without a completed background check if the FBI does not respond within three days,
• Overturning the decision by the Secretary of Education to allow federal school aid to be used for purchasing guns for teachers, and
• Enacting a federal ban on “open carry” of guns.
Here are two top federal priorities of the pro-gun lobby that you might urge your members of Congress to oppose:
• Loosening the federal restrictions on gun silencers so that they can be more widely available, and
• A requirement that all states grant “concealed carry reciprocity” (which would, in effect, usurp and eliminate all state laws banning “concealed carry”). The “open carry” issue will likely be in the news this year because the Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether the Second Amendment protects the right to openly carry a gun in public, or whether a state can prohibit open carry. When Hawaii’s ban on open carry was overturned in federal court, it appealed to the Supreme Court. The newest Supreme Court justice, Brett Kavanaugh, has shown over his years on the federal bench that he is closely aligned with the pro-gun lobby, so he could provide the pivotal vote on a divided Court.
5. In many instances, state legislatures, city councils and county councils are more willing than Congress to consider gun legislation. Advocates for thoughtful restrictions on guns have found that reaching their state and local elected officials is much easier than reaching their members of Congress, and they have achieved numerous successes. You can work with your state and local officials on some of the topics mentioned in the Congressional list above, such as: banning assault weapons, banning 3-D printed guns, banning people convicted of domestic violence from owning guns, banning open carry, and a mandatory waiting period for all sales.
We who follow Jesus care about both the long-term and the short-term. Each day we try to be faithful to him and to our Christian calling, praying that God will bless our peacemaking efforts. We have no guarantee of success, but we act in faith to reduce the violence in our midst. One day our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will look back and give thanks for our vision and courage. They may even wonder what took us so long. Let’s get started.
—Bob Tiller, who lives in Silver Spring, MD, is a longtime member of the BPFNA and a former member of the BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz Board of Directors. He is a frequent and award-winning contributor to the pages of Baptist Peacemaker.
Reprinted from the Baptist Peacemaker with thanks to BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz. www.bpfna.org.