Our nation is once again mourning the deaths of several young people and school personnel following another school shooting incident. Schools and churches are two of the main institutions that hold communities together. The Church offers comfort to those grieving but has also done more than offer “thoughts and prayers.” Over the past thirty years church denominations have been proactive in speaking out against gun violence.
- The United Methodist Church called for reducing the easy availability of guns and regulating their sale and possession in 1976, 1988, and 2000.
- The United Church of Christ passed resolutions in 1969, 1995, and 1999 to negotiate with the NRA and endorsed policies of one handgun a month, a ban on assault weapons, and regulation of gun dealers.
- The Episcopal Church passed 8 resolutions between 1976 and 2000 advocating more handgun regulations, banning assault weapons, and prohibiting the concealed-carrying of weapons.
- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued policy statements in 1995 and 2005 calling for a ban on assault weapons and regulations on the sale and use of firearms.
- The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1994 and 2008 called on the church to stem the proliferation of guns in our streets, schools, and homes and to work for strong anti-violence conditions in our neighborhoods and communities.
- The National Council of Churches called for churches to join an Interfaith Call to End Gun Violence in 2000.
- The Presbyterian Church has passed resolutions calling for reducing gun violence through sensible gun control measures more than 8 times since 1968.
The PC(USA) in 2010 passed a resolution that recommends the following measures to reduce gun violence:
- Limit personal legal gun purchases to one handgun a month.
- Require licensing, registration, and waiting periods to allow for background checks.
- Close the “gun show loophole” by requiring background checks for all gun buyers.
- Ban semiautomatic assault weapons, armor piercing handgun ammunition, and .50 caliber sniper rifles.
- Raise the age for handgun ownership to the age of 21.
- Eliminate the Tiahrt Amendment that limits local law enforcement agencies in their use of gun traces.
- Follow recommendations of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and support laws to require judges and law enforcement to remove guns from situations of domestic violence, and from people with records of mental illness, drug use, or previous criminal records; and increase police training in nonviolent proactive intervention.
What business does the Church have in getting into the gun control debate? The Church and people of faith aim to work for a society where God’s justice is foremost, for peace over conflict, where the safety and welfare of the whole community is as important as the rights of individuals. Many gun owners are concerned that gun regulations may infringe on their 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. None of the recommendations are intended to limit the legal purchase and use of firearms by gun owners with no history of domestic violence, drug use, mental health issues, or criminal record.
Freedom is important to all Americans. Our nation’s Declaration of Independence called for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Many Americans own guns to protect those very goals. The proliferation and unregulated sales and possession of firearms however have increased fear and taken too many lives.
The Church calls on all Americans to support government approaches to reduce gun violence through rational, informed policies and not out of fear and force. Holy Scripture presents another perspective on freedom and offers advice that is appropriate for the public debate on guns. The Apostle Peter encouraged his friends to respect each other and the authorities:
“As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” –1 Peter 2:16-17
In the biblical sense, freedom comes with responsibility; and freedom is not just for the individual, but for the entire community. The Church and people of faith are saying “We’re all in this together. Let’s work peacefully, in unity, for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all of us and our neighbors.”
*[I am indebted to Dr. SanDawna Ashley, Executive of Minnesota Valleys Presbytery for my reflections in this Weblog. See “Valley Bridge” newsletter for Feb. 21, 2018.