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How Newtown is driving Washington state to gun control action

Guest Opinion: Newtown's tragedy has birthed a series of gun control actions locally. It's time to join in.
A gun display in a store.

A gun display in a store. Photo: Mike Saechang

Worship was a little unusual at First Church last Sunday. In addition to musicians and ushers and liturgists we were joined by three TV cameras, a reporter from the local newspaper and a news photographer. In our worship we lit candles and tolled bells as we read the names of the Sandy Hook Elementary victims. My voice choked as I read the ages of each child who’d been killed. After a sermon in which I expressed sadness and frustration and anger about the Newtown shootings of 27 innocent people, I offered our congregation the opportunity to sign letters to the president and our congressional delegation, asking for gun control legislation aimed at reducing gun violence in America.

The response of the congregation was unanimously positive after the services, but then two things happened that gave me pause. First, I made the mistake of reading the nearly 300 online comments that followed the newspaper article. Angry gun owners were sarcastically critical of any attempts at gun control legislation and furious that anyone — especially a “PC liberal pastor who doesn’t believe in real Christianity” — would question any limits on their ability to own any firearm. The comments reminded me of the enormous obstacles that face anyone who dares to ask for meaningful change in our gun laws.

But second, I heard from a member of our church a few days later who shared this revealing comment: “I thought we’d just pray for the victims and I was uncomfortable with a call to action at church.” In one sentence the comment summarizes our theological and spiritual and social and political challenge around the issue of gun violence.

The church is good at weeping and praying. We’re terrible at taking action to solve this problem that is killing us. And we’re not the only group who’s bad at this. It’s our whole society.

Faced with regular and horrific mass shootings in his presidency, some have taken to calling President Obama our “mourner-in-chief.” Even as he’s earned this sad and unfortunate title, others have noted that all the President’s mourning has not resulted in any meaningful initiative toward reducing gun violence.There’s mourning and lamentation and tears, but little action.

Over the last years, as mass shootings have become more commonplace, our societal grief has taken a troubling turn toward hopelessness. We tune in briefly to the identical scenes of ambulances and draped bodies and heartbroken loved ones and grim-faced police chiefs. Then we change the channel. In a few moments we’re back to our normal lives.

Out of fear, some people seem to veer off into an armed-fortress mentality. Gun sales skyrocket as people arms themselves, opting for self-defense rather than societal change. Then the threat actually grows. More guns equal more gun deaths. It’s a proven formula. This is why America — which has 5 percent of the world’s population and 50 percent of its guns — leads the developed world in gun deaths per capita. The guns we purchase for self-defense are the same guns that are used for suicides, crimes of passion, and accidental gun fatalities.

The majority response, though, is a chilling, stone-cold silence. We’re sad. We shed a tear. We’re nervous. And we do nothing. Again and again and again we do nothing.

As we stand on the brink once more of doing nothing, these words of Zechariah call out:

By the tender mercy of our God,

   the dawn from on high will break upon us,

to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

   to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-29 NRSV)

It’s time to call out our peacemakers and our activists and our poets and our dreamers. It’s time to move our society into the way of peace. It’s time to get on the phone or on the Internet or in the streets and to turn our tears into action.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Dec 21, 8:01 a.m. Inappropriate

Here's a question: what is "Peace", exactly? Do we have some examples of peacefulness that we can imitate? Is it some sort of temporary relief from suffering? In human history, we have wars, just wars, murder, multiple holocausts, suffering, self-defense. I'm not sure what peace is, or where it is. Some people claim to believe in it. Others believe in Santa Claus. How about a Christmas sermon, reverend? Tell us what Peace is. I'm ready to sign up for it. I just don't see it.

gabowker

Posted Fri, Dec 21, 10:49 a.m. Inappropriate

I am a fan of turning faith into action, but I'm concerned about this response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook. Instead of relying on legislation to attempt to cure social ills, Christians need to lead by example. The art of persuasion needs to be used to change people's hearts. More gun control regulations won't stop violence.

Also, if we go down the path of placing certain restrictions on Second Amendment rights, I'm concerned that other individual rights could be subsequently curtailed. Before churches wade into arguments about the rights of citizens, Christians need to weigh the possibility that a similar erosion of religious freedoms could also occur.

A better way forward is to preach and teach the value of life and to instill in young people the virtues and disciplines that are needed to make accurate, responsible decisions in life. Reliance on government to perform these functions is misplaced faith.

tiresias

Posted Fri, Dec 21, 11:19 a.m. Inappropriate

Do not Christians support the life?
Charlotte Bacon, 2/22/2006,Daniel Barden, 9/25/2005,Olivia Engel, 7/18/2006,Josephine Gay, 12/11/2005,Ana M Marquez-Greene, 4/4/2006
Dylan Hockley, 3/8/2006,Madeleine F Hsu, 7/10/2006,Catherine V Hubbard – 6/8/2006,Chase Kowalski, 10/31/2005,Jesse Lewis, 6/30/2006
James Mattioli, 3/22/2006,Grace McDonnell, 11/4/2005,Emilie Parker, 5/12/2006,Jack Pinto, 5/6/2006,Noah Pozner, 11/20/2006,Caroline Previdi, 9/7/2006,Jessica Rekos, 5/10/2006,Avielle Richman, 10/17/2006
Benjamin Wheeler, 9/12/2006,Allison N Wyatt, 7/3/2006, Rachel Davino, 7/17/1983,Dawn Hochsprung, 6/28/1965,Anne Marie Murphy, 7/25/1960, Lauren Russeau, 6/8/1982, Mary Sherlach, 2/11/1956,Victoria Soto, 11/04/1985. Are these lives not worth the inconvenience of a few gun owners?

2cents

Posted Wed, Dec 26, 12:22 p.m. Inappropriate

How can you overlook that when citizens are disarmed the leadership of a country often turns on the citizens. Stalin killed some 20 million innocent people, Pol Pot some 3 million, Moa Tse Tung some 40 million, HItler -who knows how many million.
Chairman Moa said, "Every Communist must grasp the truth: Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." Look at the background of those who Obama has appointed as Czars, their backgrounds read like a Who's who of the Communist movement in this country.
The idiots in congress made schools "gun free zones." Read that as "Open Target Zones." Train and arm all teachers who want to be armed and the school shootings will stop or at least be curtailed.

brerfox

Posted Fri, Dec 21, 11:24 a.m. Inappropriate

Throwing more paper and laws at the problem is not a solution. As I see it it will only be putting another band aid on gangrene.

To quote Pogo from years ago "we have met the enemy and he is us"

There is something wrong with our society. Other heavily citizen armed societies do not have this problem ie Switzerland or Israel - or at least that is what I read.

I was appalled at the sight of a semi armed uniformed security person in a Seattle library. Has our society sunk that low -- really?

The arguments are endless "when guns outlawed only outlaws have guns"
"I must be able to defend myself"

I admit I am seriously wondering if I need to start packing a gun.

There is an idea of putting cops in schools - great -- now a crazy knows his first target.

I do not have the answer.

leitmotif

Posted Fri, Dec 21, 12:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Letter to Editor WSJ today:

"The real cause of the tragedy in Connecticut is not lax gun laws; it is the collapse of our culture. For more than three centuries guns were a normal part of society and they were everywhere in our culture—by the back door of every farm and ranch and on gun racks in trucks all over America. They were a normal part of life, treated with respect,... What changed? I'll tell you what changed: For decades we've had the freak show media bombarding our kids with violence and cruelty on TV, in movies and in horrible computer games. Our kids spend untold hours with games that blow up or shoot up people, spraying blood and guts across the TV or computer screen. Every day they watch TV shows or movies that glamorize horrendous, uncivilized behavior. News reports in recent days stated that the young murderer in Connecticut was a troubled "gamer"..."
B. Snyder, N.J.

On the other side of the loner coin, lies the still raging gang scene. Faith communities, in fact all of us, need to rise above pleadings to authorities as if pawns and start building upon the efforts of way-finders, e.g., see oral interview with David Kennedy here:
http://www.npr.org/2011/11/01/141803766/interrupting-violence-with-the-message-dont-shoot

afreeman

Posted Fri, Dec 21, 3:54 p.m. Inappropriate

If right-wing culture warriors would also acknowledge our national propensity to see violence as a legitimate means to accomplish our political ends (most notably and recently reflected in our anonymous drone strikes that are killing thousands of innocent people) I would be a lot more sympathetic to this argument (which is usually offered in response to any suggestion of any sort of gun control).

Posted Fri, Dec 21, 4:25 p.m. Inappropriate

It is sad to see so many unproductive comments from seemingly intelligent readers. What is peace? Is that really the point of this article. No. Shouldn't Christians lead by example? What do you think the article is, but an example of someone who is not just going to read the newspapers, click their tongue and criticize, but take some action? I'd say it's a pretty good example. For Leitmotif: pack a gun by all means if you think turing our schools and streets into the OK corral will have a positive effect. But here are the facts:

over 37,000 people will die of gun violence in the coming year. one every 8 minutes. the vast majority of those will be people who are killed in their own homes in domestic disputes and suicides. 9 million american homes have more than 10 firearms. fewer than 1/3 of gun owners take basic safety steps like locking them up or storing them unloaded. Over 100,000 people will be maimed or killed next year by a gun. Right to carry laws have had no effect on crime levels according to the respected National Research Council and other academic studies. Another fact is, most of those who die are children or young people. Homicide and suicide, most by gun, is the leading cause of death in the US among those age 15-34. Most of the guns involved in violence have been obtained legally under current Federal and state laws. We CAN do something about gun violence. we can outlaw assault rifles. Tighten restrictions on who can own a gun and how many they can have. we can heavily penalize households where gun owners do not enact basic safety rules. Calling for legislation is an action and leading by example, "inappropriate." Let's all stop talking cr...p and actually do something.

Posted Fri, Dec 21, 6:04 p.m. Inappropriate

David Kennedy—"a right-wing culture warrior" —some stretch, also sadly illustrative of settling for string-pullers getting our knees to jerk us into two waring parties. Skipping references because one knows what is being said and which "wing" supports it is pennywise, but pound foolish. String-pullers love it.

afreeman

Posted Fri, Dec 21, 5:21 p.m. Inappropriate

It's deeply heartening in the midst of this tragedy to hear the outcry against essentially unchecked gun proliferation in our country. Too long we've ignored the trend and been cowed by absolutists who believe in untouchable gun rights. It's time (and we are ready) to begin to converse across the divide, to begin conversation between groups who have deeply held different opinions. We all share this society and and we must collectively take responsibility for it. I'm not surprised to see faith communities leading this effort, even if for some it feels "uncomfortable." If not there, then where? If not where we reflect in our deepest selves on all that matters (or in our terms, our relationship to God) then where? Kudos and thanks to all who are speaking out. We're just getting started.

sca

Posted Sat, Dec 22, 11:42 a.m. Inappropriate

There is no "gun proliferation" in the US. The percentage of all US citizens owning guns has actually declined since the 1980s. From ~30% to ~20% today. What has increased markedly since the 1980s is the number of dangerous mental patients allowed to walk the streets, who in former years would have been involuntarily institutionalized.

dbreneman

Posted Fri, Dec 21, 7:52 p.m. Inappropriate

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. We cannot stand by and do nothing when the most vulnerable members of our society are killed. We live in a State with some of the most lax gun laws- and we have to start somewhere. There is no rational reason why semi automatic weapons should be sold in our State. The only ones who stand to gain from such sales are the gun industry- the same industry which (standing behind and funding the NRA) is now advocating for more guns in schools (this time in the hands of policemen). Those who believe that semi automatic guns play no role in these killings are fooling themselves. Look at Aurora and Columbine and now Newton. I am proud that people of faith are coming together to advocate for a change to protect our children because our politicians have thus far failed to do so.

amom

Posted Fri, Dec 21, 9:19 p.m. Inappropriate

I strongly support Reverend Brown's message that, in the wake of this horrible tragedy in Newtown, we need to take action, and not merely talk about it.

Realistically, we will not be able to put an end to all crimes and accidents in which a gun is involved; all we can do is to make every effort to significantly reduce the number of such gun-related deaths and injuries.

Passing (and enforcing!) new laws that make it much more difficult for disturbed individuals and criminals to have access to guns (and equally importantly, to ammunition) will not put an end to all gun-related tragedies, but it will be a step in the right direction.

Also, we must impose much stricter penalties for anyone who is convicted of a crime in which a gun is involved, whether or not that gun is actually fired.

And we don't have to start from scratch. We can easily take a look at the gun laws and gun-death statistics in a number of other countries, starting with our next-door neighbor Canada. We can learn from these examples, see what works and what doesn't.

As to the NRA proposal to have armed guards at each school; that is perhaps a well-intentioned suggestion, but will do nothing to address the root cause; the proliferation of powerful firearms and ammunition. What would the NRA have us do: post an armed guard at every door of every school? And why stop at schools? What about shopping centers, movie theaters, sports stadiums, and other places where large number of people gather? How many armed guards would be enough? A desperate armed killer would just make his first victim be one of the guards.

Finally, a better-funded mental health system with affordable access to professional and effective treatment is essential, but money is not the only relevant factor. It seems that Adam Lanza's family was very well off financially; they could have certainly afforded to provide care for Adam, but, for some reason, they did not, and we all saw the results.

NURBS

Posted Sat, Dec 22, 9:56 p.m. Inappropriate

For those who believe Europe is gun free. Read this
https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q;=cache:8YcnOvhZd9IJ:www.wfsa.net/pdf/Csaszar.pdf+Gun+Control+and+the+Reduction+of+the+Number+of+Arms+site:http://www.wfsa.net&hl;=en≷=us&pid;=bl&srcid;=ADGEESh2XfsyyBc0U1enNhC7UYewNSuDmwu_8RGrawm4yIK-AKUeoVuCILsr5WHMgMHB37hgXdU28v265kt1nNMlK8keRCJ5FoX493wu3Vr0FysObgmpCWtWLSSrNWIxBouGWL-JHKfy&sig;=AHIEtbRkKmSp_mcfGgEfkShrSojUyKcYGA

and this http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/home.html

All gun control or abolishment will do is establish a black market for the fire arms addressed by legislation. Europe has had one for decades.

Djinn

Posted Wed, Dec 26, 5:12 p.m. Inappropriate

Thank you Rev. Brown for speaking out and calling for action. I agree with you, now is the time to act. Jesus would not pick up a gun, Jesus would admonish us for bowing in reverence to the gun. It is time for a Christian call to action. I am grateful for your bravery. The public square is full of booming voices that heap withering scorn on those who dare speak against the gun, and too often those voices have silenced debate on even the most reasonable reforms that seek to increase public safety. God bless you.

RobH

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