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‘The children of this nation are tired of dying’

Stories of gun violence and heartbreak lead to unanimous vote for action at #GA226. 

Photo by Jonathan Watson for Presbyterian Outlook.

Salt Lake City — “What does Jesus have to say about the nation that kills its children?”

This question, addressed to the General Assembly, echoed through the otherwise silent ballroom on July 2. It was asked by Benjamin Fitzgerald-Fye, one of four commissioners who gave testimony about the effects of gun violence on children in the U.S. The testimonies came before a vote on overture DOE-03, which calls “for action so that children may live free from gun violence.” 

DOE-03, “An Overture Calling for Action so that Children May Live Free from Gun Violence” passed unanimously.

Overture DOE-03 proposes seven concrete steps including prayer, gun storage safety, ending gun marketing to children, promoting gun security technology, and voting, and calls upon “every congregation in the PC(USA) to take some specific action of love and responsibility for children as part of the movement to prevent gun violence.”

The gathered assembly listened in silence as the four presented impassioned and compelling testimonies, pleading to the church’s consciousness, asking hard questions of those assembled, demanding action, listing some of the types of violence that children face daily — in school, at homes, through advertising and marketing, video games, television and other forms of media. The overture, which had been placed on the consent agenda, was pulled so that all present could bear witness to the testimonies. 

The overture passed unanimously, 424-0.

These are the commissioners’ stories.

The children of this nation are tired of dying’

Two months ago, Benjamin Fitzgerald-Fye’s 12-year-old cousin was playing at the home of a 14-year-old friend. The 14-year-old, Fye said, had gotten hold of an unsecured pistol. He pointed the pistol at Fye’s cousin, wondering aloud whether the weapon was, indeed, loaded.

The 14-year-old friend pulled the trigger. 

The gun — loaded.

Benjamin Fitzgerald-Fye. Screenshot by Greg Allen-Pickett.

Fye’s young cousin, shot in the face. Killed. 

If even one of the safety measures in this overture had been in place, Fye said, his cousin would be alive today.

“This overture calls the church’s consciousness to one simple fact: The children of this nation are tired of dying. They are tired of us giving lip service and thoughts and prayers and doing nothing to protect them in their schools and in their homes. When Jesus wept over Jerusalem, he called it ‘the city that kills its prophets.’

“I ask this body to consider: What does Jesus have to say about the nation that kills its children?”

Have you received an ‘I love you’ text? 

Bridget Bol. Screenshot by Greg Allen-Pickett.

“One month ago I graduated, or should I say ‘survived’ high school,” said Bridget Bol, a Young Adult Advisory Delegate (YAAD) from the Presbytery of Lake Michigan. 

“I would like to ask the assembly,” Bol continued, her voice breaking, “if they have ever received an ‘I love you’ text from their children — because I know many of my fellow YAADs have sent them, hiding under tables in dark rooms, wielding textbooks and laptops as weapons. I know most of the commissioners have never had to watch a 10-minute video demonstrating what to do in the event of a school shooting on a college campus during your freshman year orientation. 

“I assume that you have never attended a vigil of a classmate who was killed as a result of gun violence,” Bol said. “I am so glad that you all have never had to do any of those things, though I have. I ask you all to put yourselves in our shoes and imagine having to go to school after seeing a minor wield a lethal weapon on Instagram; as you enter the school, the only security measure is a metal detector. 

“So I ask that you love your children, youth, and neighbors by protecting their mental and physical health.”

Guns are the No.1 cause of children’s and adolescents’ deaths

Lemuel Arnold. Screenshot by Greg Allen-Pickett.

Lemuel Arnold, a ruling elder commissioner from Cherokee Presbytery, shared his perspective as a pediatrician practicing for 45 years who has dealt directly with gun violence and children. 

“I understand the inquisitiveness, as well as the impulsiveness, of children. Guns are attractive because of the invasive nature of their presence in our lives and their marketing is insidious,” Arnold said. “For children, this includes video games and TV, including cartoons. Young children cannot be effectively taught that guns are dangerous and consistently follow those teachings. Adolescents cannot have their inherent impulsiveness removed, nor the significant incidence of depression that affects one in three teenagers during their teenage years. 

“Slightly over a year ago, my nurse’s 14-year-old son took his life with a gun, and she is still suffering from that loss — and will forever. The presence of guns in homes is a major danger to children. Today, guns are the number one cause of death of children and adolescents, with the majority of those being suicides. The surgeon general has called gun violence a major health risk for children and adults. 

“We must put our names with those who protect children and must support this resolution.”  

‘We had to teach children to hide under a desk’

Susan Goodman. Screenshot by Greg Allen-Pickett.

“As a part of my journey through ministry, I was an elementary school teacher for 14 years. One of my colleagues was shot point blank in the chest by a student at his middle school, and we had to grieve that,” said Susan Goodman, a teaching elder commissioner from the Presbytery of Nevada. 

“As an elementary school teacher, not only did we have to do fire drills, but we did code red drills where we had to teach the children how to hide under a desk away from the windows,” Goodman said. “That took away our teaching time. And our children live in fear. 

“We are not asking to restrict guns,” Goodman said. “We are asking parents to be responsible for their children and their children’s friends.”