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Faith Calls Us To Address Gun Violence

January 31, 2013

gun violence press conferenceBy Marianne Comfort, Institute Justice Team

Representatives from more than a dozen religious traditions came together on January 15 to deliver three simple messages to Congress: gun violence is a moral issue; gun violence prevention laws work; and there is power among people of faith to get gun violence prevention legislation passed.

Yet the most compelling remarks shared at this press conference, sponsored by the group Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, were the individual expressions of sorrow over the December shootings in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and the personal convictions born out of faith that such a tragedy should never happen again.

“The Koran tells us that if you kill one person it’s as if you are killing all of mankind,” said Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, National Director for Interfaith and Community Alliances for the Islamic Society of North America.

Similarly, “We all felt like we had died when we had heard of the killings of those 20 children,” he added.

His remarks and the remarks of several other national faith leaders preceded the distribution of a statement to President Obama, Vice President Biden and all members of Congress. Sister Patricia McDermott, president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, was among 47 faith leaders who signed the statement, which calls for legislation requiring a criminal background check for everyone buying a gun, a ban on high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines for civilians and a provision that makes gun trafficking a federal crime.

The Sisters of Mercy—out of their commitment to nonviolence, to anti-racism and to persons who are poor, sick and uneducated—have spoken out after the shootings in Newtown not only for gun control legislation, but also for improved mental health services and for honest conversation about a culture of violence all too prevalent in our inner cities, our national security policies and our entertainment industry.

Jim Wallis of Sojourners, a Christian social justice organization, brought those themes together at the press conference by noting that “God cares as much about black children killed in Chicago as white children killed in Connecticut, but why don’t those deaths catch our attention?”

Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., described too many environments where prostitution and drug trafficking flourish and incarceration is more common than graduation. “Our holy books call us to love one another, not to protect ourselves from one another,” he said of the interfaith community’s responsibility to call for sensible gun control legislation.

Vince DeMarco, Faiths United’s national coordinator, exuded confidence that gun regulations will be passed. “There are those who say it’s impossible,” he said at the press conference, “but we say not only is it possible, but it can happen.”

He compared this campaign against the gun lobby to the campaign against the tobacco lobby some years ago, noting that the key both then and now is mobilizing people of faith to demonstrate to members of Congress a strong groundswell of support for regulations.

The general public is encouraged to join in this effort to prevent gun violence by participating in a call-in day to legislators on Feb. 4. You also may send an email message to your legislators here.

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