The Church has always existed in an imperfect world with imperfect members. When the worldwide Church of Jesus Christ fulfills its calling to be the voice, hands, heart, and feet of Jesus it continues his ministry and teachings. Despite our imperfections we strive to fulfill our calling through worship, prayer, Christian education, and compassion to our neighbors in need of comfort, help, and support.
Churches of all denominations have had a major role in America as they have pulled communities together, supporting parents and families in child development, instilling values and developing vital institutions such as schools, colleges, and hospitals.
Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
Christian churches are called to promote abundant life, a task that seems overwhelming and impossible in an imperfect world. In the face of tragic gun violence incidents that have become all too frequent and common, what are we to do? After we offer our “thoughts and prayers” for the families of victims of gun violence, what are we to do? Church denominations have spoken out on gun violence.
The Presbyterian Church [PC(USA)] has for fifty years endorsed recommendations for reducing gun violence. Ministers and lay commissioners representing the national denomination have passed fourteen different recommendations at their biennial General Assembly meetings. Recommendations from the 219th General Assembly (2010) entitled “Gun Violence, Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call” offer examples of what churches can do.
–Build public awareness of gun violence and the epidemic of preventable gun-related deaths, totaling more than 620,000 over the past twenty years.
–Address the temptation to gun suicide and murder-suicide among all people.
–Churches should work at urban-suburban ecumenical partnerships to better understand the problem of gun violence and take effective action.
–Lead in ecumenical gatherings for public prayer at gun violence sites.
–Support appropriate law enforcement gang intervention strategies based on the public health model.
–Work with local law enforcement agencies and community groups to identify gun shops that engage in retail practices designed to circumvent laws on gun sales and encourage full legal compliance.
–Work with colleges and universities to sponsor educational events on gun violence and its prevention.
–Encourage citizens, hunters, and law enforcement officials who regularly handle weapons properly to be wise examples in reducing risks and teaching how to prevent the misuse of deadly force.
–Support recommendations of the International Association of Chiefs of Police to support laws to require judges and law enforcement to remove guns from situations of domestic violence, mental illness, drug use, or previous criminal record.
–Encourage and support lawmakers to draft and pass legislation that will get wide public support on measures such as:
- Limit legal personal gun acquisition to one handgun a month;
- Require licensing, registration and waiting periods for all guns sold;
- Close the ‘gun show loophole” by requiring background checks for all gun sales;
- Ban semiautomatic assault weapons, armor piercing handgun ammunition, and .50 caliber sniper rifles;
- Advocate for new technologies to aid law enforcement agencies to trace crime guns and promote public safety;
- Raise the age for handgun ownership to 21 years; and
- Eliminate the Tiahrt Amendment relating to the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) that limits local law enforcement and the U.S. Dept. of Justice to trace and record gun purchases and owners.
“Gun Violence, Gospel Values” challenges our fatalism and numbness in accepting the highest gun death rates in the world and proposes a new “spiritual awakening” approach: a church-related, community-based strategy to reduce gun violence. The Presbyterian Church has also produced a documentary film entitled “Trigger” that examines the effects and factors related to gun violence. The film has brought community groups together to discuss the problem and is available for public viewing.
America’s strength is taking action to solve problems. It’s time to stop our acceptance of gun violence. We’re better than this. The Presbyterian Church recommendations are an example of what we can do when working together. Approaching gun violence from public health and community policing perspectives we can together reduce the spread of illegal weapons and their tragic misuse.