Posts Tagged ‘gun violence prevention’

FAITH AND GUNS FORUM

Seminar Program, General Board of Church and Society

The United Methodist Building, Washington DC

November 14 – 16, 2016

Report to the East Ohio Conference

Church and Society Committee

 

The 2016 United Methodist Book of Resolutions calls us to act for justice in Resolution #3428, “Our Call to End Gun Violence.” Specifically, we are called to convene workshops, educate our communities, advocate for regulation, discourage the promotion of gun usage, assist victims of gun violence and provide gun free zones.

I have been involved in gun violence prevention (GVP) advocacy since January 2013 after my world was rocked by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed twenty 6 and 7-year-old children and six adult staff members. In 2012 I left my comfortable home two days after Thanksgiving to travel to New Jersey for my first ERT experience in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The devastation, despair and confusion that I experienced during that trip set a mellow tone to the beginning of the Christmas holidays that made me want to soften the festivities and be more reflective and appreciative of all that I had. Then on December 14 Newtown, CT was rocked by devastation, as was I. I was barely able to celebrate Christmas that year. I had been concerned about gun violence for years but never acted on my concerns. I felt I could no longer be passive about the devastation that guns inflict on our communities.

I have been active with many organizations in my advocacy including God Before Guns, The Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence and Moms Demand Action. I was the Social Action Chair of the EOC United Methodist Women where I raised gun violence prevention as my key issue and have since remained on the EOC Church and Society Committee as the gun violence prevention advocate. So, when GBCS National Office presented this forum I was more than eager and grateful to attend.

Below I will summarize some of the key concepts and ideas that I took from the program.

Engaging Faith

The root problems that proliferate gun violence in our communities are as diverse and unique as our congregations. In our urban areas economics, divestment, unemployment, housing policy and other myriad of social ills and policy failures contribute to feelings of despair and hopelessness and disadvantage. In rural areas isolation, poverty and lack of opportunity can have devastating effects. In all communities there is rampant idolatry which seems to place the 2nd amendment above that of the 1st Commandment.  Regardless of the environment there are too many people hurting in our country and it is our imperative to be the light of God where there is darkness. To engage faith communities we must commit to congregational care in all communities and address places of power.

Changing the Narrative

Today, fear is the language of power. But a burning question in many people’s mind is whether the issue is an internal fear or the need to instill fear in others. “I keep a gun for safety, to defend myself.” “Those kids would have been safe if the teachers had guns.” “I believe in open carry.” Sometimes it is hard to tell the motivation.

In addition, the current narrative places an individual’s right to have and carry a gun over the rights of the safety of others. In this scenario, I exclude law enforcement, but consider the news, how many “good guys with a gun” have turned out to be the bad guy? Every one that used that gun to kill. The statistics just don’t bear out the premise that having a gun keeps you safer.

We must educate and have faith in the gospel as THE counter-narrative. We are called to preach, to advocate, to live out our faith by disrupting the idolatry, by easing fear out of the narrative and bring the kingdom of love and peace to the earth. Faith Communities are the last bastion of morality and as such it is our duty to advocate for a perfect world.

Language Used

The NRA has been so wildly successful in their lobbying in part because of the language they use. They volley the words “freedoms” and “rights” in almost every sentence to great effect. We were given some practical advice on messaging our ideas; about how to use our value based rhetoric as opposed to policy based.

First, we should be sure to follow every NRA use of the word “freedoms” with a reminder that with freedom comes great responsibility. Also, to appeal to the safety aspect of those in fear we need to stand for the premise that we are a nation of laws, laws that’s protect individuals and punish criminals. While no single law will get rid of all gun violence, those preventive laws make a huge difference in a lot of lives. We must be vocal about the legacy we wish to leave behind for our children and the world. This “new normal” of daily violence, suicide and child access to firearms is not acceptable. We can never surrender our values for the sake of a firearm.

We also spent a significant amount of time discussing the best ways to address issues with government employees, and local and federal politicians. This was basically a very useful mini-course in persuasive speaking. I found these ideas particularly useful when I lobbied both Senator Sherrod Brown and Congressman David Joyce’s office.

GVP as a Public Health Issue

The public health approach to GVP is a proven method of curtailing the problem of gun deaths. The approach is a four-fold method of addressing an issue which involves:

1.)        Defining the problem;

2.)        Identifying the Risk

3.)        Developing and Testing Prevention Strategies;

4.)        Assuring Widespread Adoption with Ensured Access to Programs

We spent a considerable amount of time exploring programs that have been proven to work such as Group Violence Intervention, The Cure Violence Strategy and Hospital-Based Intervention Programs. In addition, several urban communities have implemented comprehensive public health strategies that have worked in reducing gun violence.

At the federal level, it is unfortunate that the gun lobby has successfully gutted funding for research on gun violence at the CDC. There has been no research on the causes or effects of gun violence from the CDC since the mid-1990’s when the NRA complained to Congress that the CDC was using the results of its research to advocate for gun control. Basically, the NRA didn’t like the statistics being found to show the likelihood of death dramatically increased based on the presence of a gun.

But statistics are still available. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence has found that 57% of suicides are committed with guns; that the decrease in homicides on a state level is attributable to better gun laws and that better social services reduces the incidence of homicide. There are a plethora of statistics that show guns do not make us safer and in fact the presence of a gun significantly increases our chances of being killed.

We also spent a considerable amount of time learning about and discussing race, domestic violence and human trafficking issues associated with gun violence and the programs successfully targeting those issues.

Lobby Day

For those attendees that were interested, the National Office arranged visits with their representatives. I met with aides from Senator Sherrod Brown and Representative David Joyce. Ideally I would have been able to speak at length about considering specific gun violence prevention legislation that would possibly come up through the legislature. Unfortunately, considering the recent election results GVP advocacy will be predominantly defensive (this conference took place a week after the national election setting a distinctly different tone to our conversations that many of us would have liked.) There will be little ability to further legislation for background checks, to protect victims of domestic violence or to prevent suicide deaths or child access prevention. In fact, what is expected to be the first order of business for the Gun Lobby is Concealed Carry Reciprocity legislation.

Having spoken to an aide of Rep. Joyce in the past and equipped with the knowledge that he gets a good amount of campaign contribution from the NRA, I knew that he preferred to dodge any talk of gun regulation. His past answer on the issue was that he “preferred to work on the mental health aspects” of the issue. Therefore, at this meeting I was able to thank him for his recent vote on a comprehensive mental health bill. I also told the aide that as my representative I strongly urge Rep. Joyce to vote against any CC Reciprocity legislation, reminding him that in 2012 there was a school shooting in his district where 3 boys died and that gun violence prevention is an important issue in his semi-rural community.

My visit to Senator Brown’s office was decidedly different than my experience with Rep. Joyce’s aide. There I was in the space of a GVP ally. We discussed many of the bills that had died in the legislature and what the aide felt was possible in the future (practically speaking, not much for GVP).

Miscellany

Along with the amazing information imparted and conversations had, I had the opportunity to screen the movie Newtown. It is a particularly chilling and sobering account of the shooting, aftermath and subsequent advocacy on the part of some of the parents and survivors of victims.

I have materials for Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath Weekend to take place in December 2017 and a gun violence bible study called “Kingdom Dreams, Violent Realities” which I hope to distribute and facilitate throughout the conference.

Although this report barely covers the amount of information learned and work done at the seminar, I am now armed with a tremendous amount of insight and knowledge, tools and sources to continue my advocacy on this important issue. I feel privileged to have been able to attend this program and meet some amazing people.  I look forward working with the national office in the future.