LOUISVILLE (PNS) — Social witness advocates within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are hoping recent statements by President Donald Trump will result in a move toward more aggressive gun safety laws.
On Wednesday, the President stunned both Democrat and Republican lawmakers by calling for comprehensive gun legislation. During a meeting with lawmakers at the White House, the president said the recent school shooting in Florida that took 17 lives had changed the dynamics of the discussion.
Appearing to veer away from the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) stance on the issue, the president said legislation should include an expansion of background checks to weapons purchased on the internet or at gun shows, preventing people who suffer mental illness from purchasing weapons and restricting gun sales to some young adults.
Regardless of what comes out of Congress, Presbyterian church leaders are standing firm on their call for stronger gun laws. The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Office of Public Witness, calls gun violence a public health epidemic in America. He said the “menace of gun violence rampages” from one coast to the other affecting almost every community.
“Our streets are overflowing with guns with far too easy access to weapons of mass destruction. We must be vigilant and deploy several strategies. Background checks need to be strengthened. The legal age to buy guns needs to be raised to 21 as done by Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods,” he said. “We must fight for the repeal of the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act which prohibits lawsuits against gun manufacturers. We must be advocates to members of Congress to pass meaningful gun legislation.”
Hawkins added the church needs to put moral pressure on corporations to be good corporate citizens.
“We applaud the decision of Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods to no longer sell semi-automatic weapons and pressure others (Bass Pro Shops and Cabela) to do the same,” he said. “We must confront the real culprits behind the abundance of available guns, munition companies. Gun companies need to take greater responsibility for the weapons they produce. They must be held accountable through the prophetic voice of the church challenging them to limit the number of automatic weapons they produce and distribute.”
Rob Fohr, director of Faith-Based Investing and staff to the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI), indicated that PC(USA) policy (such as a 1995 action on gun-related investments) affirmed the actions of the companies reducing sales or support for automatic weapons. “We will correspond with the publicly-traded companies commending them on these important decisions.”
The Rev. Chris Iosso, coordinator of the church’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), said the president’s latest statement needs to be affirmed for the potential to break the “legislative logjam on reasonable gun laws.”
“President Trump could show great leadership on this. Every informed U.S. citizen knows we have more gun deaths than all the developed nations combined and that we are not honoring the Second Amendment’s language of a “well-regulated” militia,” he said. “Each time a pastor grieves with a family over a gun death, or a deacon cares for a handicapped survivor of a gun wound, we pray as the church, for the infection of fear of the neighbor that drives gun-buying and carrying. Although crime has been steadily declining in almost all categories for years, insecurity and social polarization are constantly whipped up—partly by actual foreign agents in social media. We want the nation to get a grip on its soul rather than the trigger, and stop letting gun laws be driven by fanatics and gun manufacturer campaign contributions.”
Hawkins said churches must shine a light on the “horrific devastation” their products are producing, referencing Mark 4:22 and Luke 8:17, “For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light.” (Mark 4:22; Luke 8:17)
“People across the nation have finally started paying attention to the epidemic of gun violence. The numerous school shootings in the first six weeks of the year cannot be ignored, nor can the voices of the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, who have inspired and mobilized the entire country,” said Sara Lisherness, director of Compassion Peace and Justice. “These students, survivors of the shooting, have refused to be consoled by the ‘thoughts and prayers’ coming from elected leaders. They want change. Their leadership is inspirational and should not be ignored. The church has an opportunity to walk alongside young people who are rising up across the country and support their clarion call for change.”
“The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program offers a number of resources to educate congregations on the issue. We urge worship leaders and committees to use bulletin inserts and other resources on their church’s stand on guns, to remember the movie, Trigger, produced by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and to encourage their high school and adult discussion groups to study the church’s policy, “Gun Violence, Gospel Values,” added Lisherness.
The N.R.A.’s chief lobbyist said the President has backed off the stance taken during the meeting. Church leaders say they are still hopeful.
“There is a window of opportunity for the church to provide leadership in stemming the tide of gun violence,” said Lisherness. “It is time to raise our voice and bear witness to the Prince of Peace, who calls us all to the task of peacemaking, healing the brokenness caused by this epidemic.”
by Rick Jones, Presbyterian News Service