But what can I do?

Ashley Mason Brown offers concrete ideas for how faith leaders can assist with lowering the rate of gun violence in the United States.

Gun violence and firearms in society concept as a gun among a community of people representing prevention of violent crime with guns or firearm legislation and mass shooting safety laws

Every morning I wake up and check the online news for the overnight shootings in New Orleans, Louisiana, where I have recently begun a two-year pastoral residency with St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church.

I’ve been here a few weeks and have fallen in love with the complex joie de vivre of this historic city. The church where I work is fragrant with green and white flowers, surrounded by old historic mansions. Wrought iron fences and private security systems create the illusion of security. It would be so easy for me to simply stop checking the news each morning, but I can’t.

This week alone I read about:

Eight women who were shot in lower-income neighborhoods, mere miles away, over the course of six weeks.

A late-night shooting in a Bourbon Street bar.

A 10 a.m. murder in the nearby Aurora neighborhood.

And these are the stories that made the news circuit. So many others never do — I can tell by tracking the number of murders on the murder map. I’ve only been here mere weeks, but my collection of gun violence-related stories is ever-growing. There are stories of hold-ups coming home from bars, murders during soccer pick-up matches, retaliation hits on innocent loved ones. We’re 23% down from the homicide total of 2022, but we watch the news warily.

And I feel so angry and helpless. It’s a reasonable response. Gun-related news stories roll around like dice on a gaming table, not just in New Orleans but across the country. In response, we see gun sales increase along with the likelihood that each of us will have memories associated with guns embedded in our narratives. It’s a roll of the metaphorical dice to hope that each memory associated with a gun avoids a tragic outcome.

One only must walk through Walmart’s back-to-school section and spy the bulletproof backpack section to understand that fear sells. In fact, fear is a big business. According to Forbes, America’s gun business is a $28 billion dollar business.

There are gun carry kits that look like Bibles. There are pink guns for the more feminine types. There are “Nightmare Before Christmas” guns. Zebra print guns. 60,000 different versions of camo guns. Want a panic shelter? That can range anywhere from $5-6,000 for baseline models. If your budget allows, perhaps you’d like a customized bunker built into the foundation of your home which can cost between $9,000 and $40,000.

We see this response – guns for guns – in legislation as well. For instance, in May, Texas lawmakers approved House Bill 3, a school safety bill costing over $1 billion that, among other things, requires that every Texas school campus have an armed school district-approved employee. This bill was signed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott and will go into effect on September 1, 2023.

So, what can our beloved faith community do in the face of fear?

There is one great acidic dissolvent for fear: curiosity. Exercising curiosity is a fundamental principle of our Reformed theologies. We love 11th-century bishop Anselm’s quote, “Faith seeking understanding.” We love Daniel Migliore’s seminal text with the same title. How can our faith seek understanding in a war-zone-like case such as gun violence? How can we convince others to join in the conversation?

As theologians, pastors, Christians and Presbyterians, we must understand the why, before we get to the how. Why are people shooting their weapons more and more?

If you ask me, we’re seeing increased gun violence because of 1) growing fear levels, 2) increasing gun ownership numbers, 3) decreasing mental health resources and 4) decreasing physical community social structures and increasing isolation.

So, now that we have this brief study in politics laid out; we are left with the lingering question of “so what can we do?” As religious leaders, our armory consists of theologies and community building.

How can we make the United States safer from gun violence?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Peace begins at home. Ensure that the homes your children visit are gun-free or that any weapons are safely secured. Teach your children basic gun safety so that they will know the dangers of guns. Teach them to not touch a weapon they find. If you are a gun owner, ensure your guns are safely stored. Destigmatize conversations around gun safety. If you are able to speak about gun safety, you will also be able to build a bridge with people who take a different view of gun ownership.
  • Hold community conversations around gun violence. You can work with organizations such as Guns to Gardens or utilize film and video resources and toolkits online such as Odyssey Impact’s “Second Shot” or “We are All Newton.” Welcome various perspectives and remember that change takes time.
  • Become an advocate for gun safety-focused legislation in your area and plug into movements for gun safety. Learn about your faith tradition’s practices of peace. Research gun violence. The more knowledgeable you are, the better you can connect resources, build trust and be seen as a community advocate. Speak not only to your church, but also to your judiciaries as a representative of your faith.
  • Use the pulpit, or your social media and speak to your communities on gun violence prevention. Faith communities can draw inspiration from Matthew 26:52-54, Ecclesiastes 9:18, 1 Samuel 13:22-23, Luke 11:21-22.
  • Bobby Watson, Human Rights Fellow of Texas Impact brings up the importance of seeing the purple in the issue and also in the demographics of worshipers Sunday mornings saying, “I think the idea of responsibility with gun ownership is a good way to engage that space and something that several faith leaders from our membership have utilized when they have talked about the issue. It opens a place to talk about what responsibility your right to arms comes with and how we can legislate to encourage responsible and safe gun ownership.” 

Here are some great additional educational resources for those hoping to learn more: