Clergy, lay leaders gather to bear witness to gun violence

By Mike Patterson
Posted Jul 10, 2018

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] About two dozen clergy and lay leaders gathered the evening of July 9 at the 79th General Convention to bear witness to the gun violence they have experienced in their lives, share their frustration at the inability to curb the death tolls from guns and listen for steps they can take to end gun deaths and injuries.

The gathering, sponsored by Bishops United Against Gun Violence, came a day after Philip and April Schentrup, Episcopalians whose daughter Carmen was one of 17 students and educators killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, shared their gut-wrenching testimony with the bishops and several hundred onlookers at Brush Square Park. The Schentrup family was joined on stage by Abigail Zimmerman, a ninth-grade Episcopalian from Waco, Texas, and co-leader of a school walkout in March in response to the massacre, who urged everyone “to make change happen.”

Full ENS coverage of the 79th meeting of General Convention is available here.

With their chairs arranged in a large circle, participants in the networking session shared any comments they wished to make about gun violence. They came from a variety of backgrounds – clergy, social workers, activists, a seminary dean, a retired U.S. Special Forces sergeant, a retired school principal.

Some talked about growing up with guns in their households or shared memories about those they’ve known who have been killed by guns. Others mentioned that they work in rural regions where guns are a way of life. Many were at a loss as to what they could do to put a stop to the violence. A suggestion to repeal the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution drew applause from several.

“I can’t say where I’m called to address gun violence, but I can say I want to come to the table,” said the Rev. Michelle Walker, alternate deputy from Northern Indiana.

Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas shared his experience serving in a state where gun manufacturing is a major industry. “When I moved to Connecticut, I didn’t realize guns would be so much a part of my conversations on both sides,” he said.

Douglas said Connecticut is the original home of the Colt revolver. A parish within his diocese is supported by a Colt endowment, and many parishioners in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut are involved in the gun manufacturing industry, he said. “How do I pastor in that circumstance?” he asked.

As the gathering wrapped up, Douglas encouraged everyone to take steps to end gun violence, whether preaching from the pulpit, writing letters to elected officials, penning pieces for publication or simply witnessing to others about gun violence.

Rebecca Wilson of Canticle Communications, which is helping coordinate the work of Bishops Against Gun Violence, shared several resources for those interested in learning more about ways to prevent gun violence. These include Bishops United Against Gun Violence, the Episcopalians Against Gun Violence Facebook page and the Cross Lobby’s Twitter account.

– Mike Patterson is a San Antonio-based freelance writer and correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. He is a member of ENS General Convention reporting team and can be reached at rmp231@gmail.com.


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Comments (33)

  1. PJ Cabbiness says:

    This is self serving madness. I thank God for the wisdom of our Founding Fathers. Fortunately, the Second Amendment is strong enough to repel the misguided efforts of this type of activism.

    1. Matt Ouellette says:

      How is it self-serving? Why is it bad to want to reduce gun violence? Why can’t we have sensible gun laws like the rest of the developed nations in the world? I’m sure we can come up with sensible gun regulations that are compatible with the Second Amendment (as long as we don’t listen to the NRA and other gun extremists).

      1. william dailey says:

        Matt, it isn’t bad to want to reduce gun violence but it is questionable to suggest that banning guns as you suggest will solve the problem. The facts are that law abiding citizens who own guns not only protect themselves and their family but the community as well. There is no factual support for the proposition that banning guns will reduce gun violence. Britain is a country “sensible” gun laws but violence continues to increase. British crime is so rampant that they don’t respond to or investigate most home invasions. In fact if a British citizen uses force to resist a home invader the homeowner will most likely be convicted of a crime for doing so. By the way, Chicago has all the restrictive gun laws but still has a high murder rate and gun violence. If you look at the facts behind this violence it involves black on black crime. If those crimes were removed from the statistics Chicago would be the most peaceful city in the world. Chicago politicians choose ot deal with these inconvenient facts by ignoring the problem. How would you respond to this?

        1. Matt Ouellette says:

          I would respond that, after Australia passed sensible gun laws after a mass shooting, it hasn’t had one since. The fact is gun laws work:
          https://www.sciencealert.com/scientific-evidence-that-stricter-gun-control-works-saves-lives
          Your statement on Chicago is also not accurate:
          http://www.politifact.com/illinois/statements/2017/oct/03/sarah-huckabee-sanders/chicago-toughest-gun-control-claim-shot-full-holes/

          1. Bill Louis says:

            What is a sensible gun law or are you simply promoting gun confiscation like Australia’s? There are states with oppressive gun laws i.e. New Jersey that make it extremely difficult to purchase a gun let alone obtain a license to carry one. The problem is criminals don’t care about or follow the laws.
            The liberally biased Politifact link you provide admits that Chicago requires a purchaser to obtain a Firearms Owners Card which in itself is a form of registration and pass a background check before purchase can be completed. The reason Politifact cites for Chicago, in their opinion, having lax gun laws is that they do not require gun registration which a banner carried by the anti-gun left hence the bias in their opinion. Chicago has more murders that other states with the same requirements for purchasing a firearm so there must be something else going on in Chicago other than “lax” gun laws..

          2. Matt Ouellette says:

            Australia’s law was not gun confiscation, and I don’t think we need to implement a carbon copy of its laws here. However, our current laws are far too lax here in this country. My question is why can’t we have gun laws similar to other countries like Australia, Canada and the rest of the developed world? As the ScienceAlert article showed, evidence indicates that stricter gun laws do result in less gun violence. So while criminals may not follow the law, it appears the laws are effective anyways. Also, Politifact is not liberally biased, it is a mainstream fact-checking website. Please don’t proclaim something as biased just because you don’t like what it says. If you don’t agree with what they found, provide evidence showing otherwise (from mainstream sources, not Fox News or Breitbart). The source demonstrates that it is false to point to Chicago as proof that gun laws don’t work, mostly because it does not have the strict gun laws that conservatives claim (most of their attempts to restrict guns were struck down by the courts and have no effect, as the article claimed). Here’s another source to back that up:
            https://www.npr.org/2017/10/05/555580598/fact-check-is-chicago-proof-that-gun-laws-don-t-work
            Also, even if Chicago were a place with the strictest gun laws and high gun violence, it would be an outlier because, as the ScienceAlert article demonstrated, strict gun laws to reduce gun violence on average.

          3. Bill Louis says:

            Depending on the source used a disagreement on bias can be argued either way. This source posits that Politifact finds conservative claims false 3 times more that liberal claims. Its in the way the statement is viewed and interpreted. So I wouldn’t take Politifact’s opinion as gospel in every case.
            https://www.newsmax.com/Reagan/PolitiFact-Fact-Checkers-Bias/2015/03/20/id/631565/

            You are correct when you say gun crimes dropped in Australia after the soft petaled gun confiscation law where semiautomatic firearms were banned making anyone who retained a semiautomatic gun a criminal after the ban. To soften the blow the Australian government instituted a buy-back plan for guns that were made illegal. Many law abiding Australian citizens reluctantly gave up their firearms. That smacks of confiscation.

            On the other hand violent crimes peaked after the ban. According to the writer of the article below it is because law abiding citizens were left with no means to protect themselves from violent criminals. Your blanket statement on the violent gun crimes declining lacks some fact when looking at Australia’s overall crime picture
            https://winteryknight.com/2017/10/06/did-australias-ban-on-guns-lower-violent-crime-rates-and-lower-suicide-rates-2/

            An issue can be looked at from both ways depending on personal beliefs. That’s what makes this country great

          4. Matt Ouellette says:

            First, Newsmax is not a mainstream source. It is a conservative-leaning source much like Fox News (it even advertises itself as such), and your blogger is a conservative-leaning commentator, so these are not unbiased, mainstream sources. Second, Politifact is not the only fact-checking organization that debunked the Chicago myth (see the NPR link, for example). Finally, that graph in the blog post is misleading:
            https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/03/us/politics/las-vegas-shooting-gun-claims-fact-check.html

        2. Robert Lee says:

          Address violence in all forms.

        3. william dailey says:

          Matt my statement on Chicago is correct. The Chicago Detective Division produced an Annual Murder Analysis. It was a detailed record of who, what, when ,where and how murders were committed. When its findings became too controversial (black crime was the predominant cause of the murder rate) the politicians stopped the report as it became impossible to blame guns with these facts published every year. Copies of this report are in the Chicago Library or at least were. I obtained my copies directly from the Detective Division.

          1. Matt Ouellette says:

            Again, check the sources I linked. Pointing to Chicago as evidence that gun laws don’t work is not a valid argument.

          2. william dailey says:

            A peer reviewed study by Jon Lott, “More Guns Less Crime” does indeed establish that guns are not the problem. High homicide rates are found in Democrat controlled metropolitan areas where they have strict anti-gun laws in effect. That’s the real world we live in!

          3. Thomas Prater says:

            william dailey – trying to get Matt Ouellette to even read anything other than a liberal point of view is a waste of effort. Most of the people in the US have now figured out that the so called “main stream media” is so biased that they only report on things that fit their point of view.

          4. Matt Ouellette says:

            No, Thomas, the mainstream media is not “liberal biased.” That is a conservative myth. What’s biased are sources like Fox News, Breitbart, and other conservative news outlets which skew facts to fit their slant on the media.

          5. Bill Louis says:

            Matt, To say the MSM is not liberally biased is naive and laughable. All news sites report what suits their agenda but ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC, and CNN are masters at spinning stories to fit their narrative and at times even lies and untruths. I’ll bet if I look it up on Politifact my statement will get a “pants on fire”. Thomas Prater is right on.

          6. Matt Ouellette says:

            As for Will, John Lott’s research has been debunked several times as unreliable:
            https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/07/29/more-guns-less-crime-not-exactly/

        4. Cynthia Lehman says:

          One of the largest questions we need to come to terms with in relation to guns is the assertion that having is gun is necessary for self-protection or the protection of our family/friends/students/workplace etc. Whatever the statistics on this assertion are, the morality behind it needs to be questioned, especially among Christians. When I purchase a gun with the intent of using it for self-defense, that means I am purchasing a gun with the intent to hurt or kill another person. If we do not ask ourselves how that makes us different from a “bad” person who threatens us with a gun, we are not being morally honest. I do not believe that it does make us different, no matter how much I want to protect myself and my loved ones. That idea, founded in fear, is the central support for gun proliferation in our nation. I choose not to act from fear and not to behave as though there are good reasons to kill other people. We all need to come to terms with the successful use of fear-mongering because it threatens our very basic freedoms and makes us vulnerable to violence every day.

          1. Bill Louis says:

            Cynthia, you are free to “turn the other cheek” when it comes to someone aiming to harm your family or loved ones. I do not chose that path. If I am to be judged by my maker for defending my loved ones from evil then so be it. You can live with your decision of it ever comes to that.

          2. Matt Ouellette says:

            Bill, you say you want to have a gun to protect your family from intruders. Fair enough (I’m not a pacifist and I don’t think Jesus’ teachings require pacifism). However, do we really need semi-automatic rifles, high-capacity magazines, armor-piercing rounds, and bump stocks for home defense? In my opinion, all those tools seem unnecessary for civilians to own. Perhaps a strict gun licensing system could be implemented (which would require stringent training and background checks to obtain a license) which would allow people to own and operate some of these weapons, but I don’t think people should just be able to own tools like that without any restrictions.

          3. william dailey says:

            Persons that will not use all available resources, ie guns, to defend their lives should not expect a young policeman with a family to put his life at risk to defend something upon which he places no value, ie his life. In such cases keeping ones obituary current is not a bad idea.

          4. Cynthia Lehman says:

            It is precisely because I value my life that I refuse to take the life of another person. We are far too easy in our creation of hierarchies–it is ok to kill vegetables, but not animals in order to live, those people are inferior to “my people,” that group needs to be profiled in order to keep us safe. I don’t want police officers to kill people in my name either. We behave not much more civilized than cave people when we run around armed to the teeth. It is not civil and it does nothing to create true community.

  2. cynthia seddon says:

    Try telling a Montana to give up a gun. It is not a crime to own a weapon and to use it in self defense. Matt Ouelette has hia own liberal agenda good luck convincing him otherwise.

    1. Matt Ouellette says:

      We’re not asking people to give up their guns. You can still own guns in states and countries with stricter gun laws, they are just more difficult to obtain (and certain models are restricted because civilians do not need them). And are you saying you don’t have a bias (in this case pro-gun) and can be convinced otherwise?

      1. Bill Louis says:

        Matt, “Because civilians do not need them” is your personal opinion based on what? The Second Amendment does not define what type of gun a law abiding citizen may own. The fallacy of “you don’t need a semi-automatic rifle for hunting” is totally irrelevant. The Second Amendment was put into the Constitution by founders to guard against tyranny from an out of control government like the one in Germany in the 1940’s. To say “we are not asking people to give up their guns” is a total lie. The left would love to see gun confiscation in our country. Here’s Hillary supporting an Austrailian style confiscation program. https://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2015/10/16/hillary-clinton-calling-out-the-n-r-a-gets-a-quick-reply/
        Yes, making a law against ownership of a certain type of firearm and then offering to buy it back or brand you a criminal is a form of confiscation.

        1. Matt Ouellette says:

          I’m sorry, but we don’t need guns to protect us from a tyrannical government (I don’t see Canada, the UK, Australia, or other developed nations with strict gun laws falling into tyranny). And while the Second Amendment doesn’t specify what types of guns we cannot own, we’ve already done that as a nation. Hence we don’t allow civilians to own fully automatic guns, grenade launchers, or nuclear arms. I just think semi-automatic rifles is another type of weapon civilians should not own without proper licensing. And no, Australia’s gun law with a gun buy back is not confiscation. That’s fear-mongering from the gun rights extremists who oppose any and all common sense gun regulations (and are trying to undo the few regulations we already have).

          1. Bill Louis says:

            Matt, I believe you are a good person with good intentions but I am exhausted trying to get you to see the “other side”. You are too entrenched in your liberal beliefs to see any other side but your own. There are always two side of an issue you have yours and I have mine.. I wish you luck with yours.

          2. william dailey says:

            Matt, with all due respect Australia did confiscate certain guns. I knew numerous gun owners in Australia as well as gun dealers that were involved in collecting the guns. The fact that Australia “purchased” the confiscated guns makes it no less confiscation. I was personally informed that Australians took the money for the confiscated guns and purchased other guns. By the way, machine guns are legal to own in certain jurisdictions. The Feds do require a $200 license that is slow walked for approval. Matt you feel very strongly about this. Feelings however can’t outweigh facts. Having said that it would be nice to discuss all these things over a cup of coffee.

          3. Matt Ouellette says:

            Bill, it does seem we will not see eye-to-eye on this. You obviously agree with the conservative pro-gun side on this, and I think we need more regulation like the other countries in the developed world (the liberal position, as you call it). I think I have the evidence to support my position, but you appear to believe you do too. I’m sure you are a faithful follower of Christ too, but we obviously disagree on to do on guns. I personally lament what appears to be a near idolatry of guns in this nation, and hope that our nation turns away from it in any way it can. Either way, may God be with you.

          4. Matt Ouellette says:

            Will: I did not know that about machine guns, but as you said a license is needed to own one. I propose we do the same for semi-automatic rifles nationwide. Yes, I do feel strongly about this, because I do not think free access to all guns is a wise policy. I lament the near idolatry of guns in our nation, and pray that we repent of it. However, as I have cited frequently on this board, I do believe the facts and evidence support my position for stricter gun laws (what those specific laws are would be up for debate). The rest of the developed world does perfectly fine with stricter gun laws, and I believe we can too. Either way, I’m sure you are a faithful follower of Jesus as well, and I wish God’s blessings on you.

  3. Jordan Sakal says:

    To my friends here, I am posting this as a question for you all. I have to ask this, when is enough gun violence enough? Gun control has existed around the world for years. In the UK, it was at Dunblane Primary School in 1996 which after the death of students and teachers lead to the restriction on gun ownership there. Canada has had gun control legislation and controls on who can own various types of weaponry since 1885! There are bans that exist on the owning of military-style-semi-automatics (MSSAs) in Australia, New Zealand, Japan too. All of these countries have responded to tragedies or incidents in other countries by enacting legislation to prevent such tragedies in their own countries. In the United States, We have had Pulse Nightclub, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Columbine, School shootings in Texas and FL and so many other places I could keep going but it is just too many. When is enough enough? We need background check reform. We need MSSA bans and confiscations. There is no reason such weapons should be available to civilians. When is enough blood enough?

  4. Bill Louis says:

    Jordan, When is any violence enough? If guns are no longer available then whats next knives, vans, trucks, bombs and what after that? Criminals always seem to be able to get their hands on guns leaving law abiding citizens at their mercy. As long as there is evil in this world evil people will find a way to inflict violence on others. Governments and police will never be able to protect citizens from violence, They will only be there to clean up the mess.

  5. Bill Louis says:

    I am done here. I pray that all of you anti’s never have to face evil empty handed.

  6. Stephen Mills says:

    One of the problems in the gun rights/gun regulation debate is that there are two very well funded lobbies one on either side of the issue. Neither side is above cherry picking statistics and even outright lies to advance their point of view. Both seem more concerned with keeping the money flowing than in resolving the issue. You can see those two positions reflected above.
    On this issue the bishops seem sadly misguided. The single biggest driver of violence in this and any society is economic inequality. The reason that European democracies have lower rates of violence is because they have less economic inequality. Yes Australia’s homicide rate dropped after they severely restricted gun ownership but only six years later. Correlation does not equal causation.
    If you want to reduce gun deaths this is how you do it. Two thirds of all gun deaths are suicides. 90% are male and the largest cohort is between 45 and 64 (hint: those in economic distress). Strengthen community, especially community mental health and develop programs to target those most at risk.
    The remaining one third are mostly in the inner cities (no, Bill, it does not have to do with race but economic status). Solve the problems of the inner cities and you dramatically reduce these deaths. Improve education, establish job training, develop programs to target at risk youth, take the money from the war on drugs and spend it on rehabilitation not incarceration, give the people hope. These are much more difficult solutions than passing a few gun laws but they are the only ones which will be effective.

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