Faith Communities Stepping Up Efforts Against Guns and Gun Violence
Two days after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the Very Rev. Gary Hall climbed into the stone pulpit at Washington, D.C.’s National Cathedral and delivered a fierce sermon that grabbed headlines across the country.
“Enough is enough,” Hall said. “We have tolerated school shootings, mall shootings, theater shootings, sniper shootings, workplace shootings, temple and church shootings, urban neighborhood shootings, for far too long. The massacre of these 28 people in Connecticut is, for me at least, the last straw.”
Hall went on, “The best way for us to mourn the Sandy Hook shooting is to mobilize the faith community for gun control … we know both from faith and experience that the cross is mightier than the gun. The gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby.”
Four days after his sermon, Rev. Hall joined a press conference of interfaith leaders, who called for the religious community to act collectively to end gun violence and to demand swift action from political leaders to pass common-sense gun laws. In the days since, pressure has continued to mount, and more faith-based groups are calling for action.
A coalition called Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, which came together after the shooting of former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) two years ago, has drafted a public letter to President Barack Obama and Congress with the following three legislative demands: require a criminal background check for every gun sold in this country, ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and make gun trafficking a federal crime. Coalition members are holding a press conference on January 15 to release the letter and to urge action.
PICO, a national faith-based organizing group, is also calling for a ban on assault weapons and background checks on gun sales. “Praying is not enough,” said Rev. Michael McBride, head of PICO’s Lifelines to Healing campaign. “We must turn our prayers, grief, and outrage into action … the majority of Americans support these sensible proposals.”
Over the past weekend congregations across the country participated in a Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath, where they heard sermons, prayed, and pledged action. New voices are joining those who have been working on this issue for years. Heeding God’s Call is active in Pennsylvania, while houses of worship in Chicago, Los Angeles, and other cities such as New York and Boston have long been involved in antigang and gun violence efforts.
For too long, the work of many of these groups attracted little public notice. Hopefully, however, that will now change. A broad-based movement is coming together that includes African American and Latino churches, white evangelicals, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Catholic, and other faith communities. They will not be easily dismissed.
Indeed, their clout will be essential in the coming days in order to transform moral outrage into common-sense legislation. According to news reports, the White House is considering a broad range of comprehensive measures to reduce gun violence. These include uniform background checks on gun buyers, a national database to track the sale and movement of guns, stronger mental health checks, and more.
Officials at the National Rifle Association, after laying low for a week in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, have come out more defiant than ever. The NRA’s Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre called for armed guards in every school and blamed the Sandy Hook shooting on violent entertainment and lax mental health policies. Notably, LaPierre did not say one word about the role of his organization’s lobbyists in gun violence.
It is clear that NRA officials are hoping public attention will soon wane and drift to another issue, as it has in the past, and that the pressure to act will die down. They are callously hoping that our collective moral outrage will be sapped by arcane policy fights and by a mass of legislative details too complex for sound bites. They want to outwait and outwit the rest of us.
But this time is different. People of faith are joining millions of Americans of all political stripes to demand common-sense gun policies. As Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington (D.C.), said at the interfaith press conference, “We get to a moment where we can’t take it anymore. We’ve got to rededicate ourselves to who we are.”
It’s time to pull back the curtain on the gun lobby, to shame them and their political allies for sacrificing thousands of American lives each year to an extremist ideology that lacks the support of most Americans.
Since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, more than 500 people have been killed by guns in America. Every day the number rises. It is long past time to echo what Rev. Hall said in his sermon at the National Cathedral: “Enough is enough.”
Sally Steenland is Director of the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress. Steenland, a best-selling author, former newspaper columnist, and teacher, explores the role of religion and values in the public sphere.
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Director, Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative