GUN VIOLENCE BLOG POST BY THE BISHOP
At 8:00 a.m. on October 1, 1997, a horrific rampage shooting took place at Pearl High School in Pearl, MS a suburb of Jackson, the state capital. Within minutes two students were dead, several injured, and a whole community forever traumatized. At the time our children were in high school and middle school in Madison just 16.6 miles away. Lynn was a teacher in an elementary school. I remember the shock and alarm and fear and vulnerability that we all felt. While I now know that there had been other school shootings prior to the one in Pearl, it was the first time that I was aware of something this horrendous happening in a school. This shooting at Pearl High School would be the first in a series of rampage shootings to follow, continuing to the Columbine massacre in 1999. It is sickening that the list of schools that have been the sites of gun violence is longer than any of us would have fathomed back in 1997
At the end of this blog, I have included a list of schools which have endured gun violence. Please read this list, knowing that each school represents students, teachers, administrators, custodians, cafeteria workers, parents, grandparents, family members, and community members. Hundreds and hundreds have been touched by the deaths of loved ones. I am sure there are other schools not listed here. And this list does not even include gun violence at malls, movie theaters, grocery stores, neighborhoods, other public places nor homes where gun violence also occurs. (Note, this list has been omitted. The Trace is a non-profit that does an excellent job of tracking current gun violence. (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Many school shootings and many deaths later, we find ourselves standing in the place in which so many other communities have stood with the shooting at The Covenant School, a private Presbyterian Church school. My heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims of this violence. Our community grieves for these families; we lament the violence that has been visited on our brothers and sisters at Covenant Presbyterian Church and The Covenant School. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice!” Psalm 130:1
How can we accept that there is “nothing we can do” about this epidemic of gun violence? I do not accept that.
What CAN we do?
PRAY: I call on the people of Nashville and across The Tennessee Western Kentucky Conference of the United Methodist Church to pray. Pray without ceasing and listen for God’s message to you for what CAN be done in these tender days of mourning, grief, and outrage. However, Friends, we cannot stop with “thoughts and prayers.”
EDUCATE: Educate yourself about gun violence in the United States. What are gun violence statistics? What are school shooting statistics? What is an assault weapon (that is now used in many school gun violence episodes) and what is an assault weapon typically used for? There was formerly a Federal Assault Weapons Ban from 1994 to 2004. What has been the effect of gun violence since The Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 expired in 2004? Read about ways United Methodists can take a stand against gun violence here. The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church contains our official position on gun violence. Resolution 3428 in the 2016 Book of Resolutions, “Our Call to End Gun Violence,” calls upon each of us to do several things. Read the resolution in its entirety here. (Added this)
PLAN: Determine the actions you want to take. Personally, I want our political leaders to address BOTH mental health and public health issues AND to pass sensible gun laws and reduce easy access to dangerous weapons by banning assault weapons that are meant for trained military personnel in war times. The gun violence epidemic in our country must be addressed through comprehensive approaches. Locate the contact information for your US Senators, US House Representative for your District, Governor, Tennessee General Assembly Legislators. Lt. Governor Randy McNally is considering supporting red flag laws which work to keep guns out of the hands of people with a diagnosed mental illness. Red flag laws do not have a political bias. Such laws MIGHT have prevented the person responsible for the Covenant School shooting from having access to weapons.
You may call Lt. Governor Randy McNally @615-741-6906 and share your support with of this with him.
ACTION: Take the action you feel led to take to be a part of what CAN be done. Write a letter and/or make a telephone call to your lawmakers. Express your concern. Ask questions about plans your lawmaker has for stopping gun violence. Express your hope for the way your lawmaker will represent your interests. Vote for candidates that support your views for what CAN be done to address gun violence. Attend events that address gun violence. Talk with other like-minded people.
STAND TOGETHER: During the inaugural meeting of the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Annual Conference in June 2022, a resolution was presented and passed advocating lawmakers implement laws that would reduce or prevent gun violence. The text of this resolution follows the Bishop's Blog Post.
You see, there are some things that CAN be done.
Pray; educate yourself; decide what you want to do to be a part of the solution so that this list is less likely to grow longer; take some action in some way; and stand with others to do what CAN be done.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.
Bishop Bill McAlilly
The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church -- 2016
Jesus' call to his followers to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9) is tied to intimate relationship with God, and echoes God's dreams for peace for all of creation as expressed in Micah 4:1-4:
"In days to come, / the mountain of the LORD's house / shall be established as the highest of the mountains, / and shall be raised up above the hills. / Peoples shall stream to it, / and many nations shall come and say: / 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, / to the house of the God of Jacob; / that he may teach us his ways / and that we may walk in his paths.' / For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, / and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. / He shall judge between many peoples, / and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; / they shall beat their swords into plowshares, / and their spears into pruning hooks; / nation shall not lift up sword against nation, / neither shall they learn war any more; / but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, / and no one shall make them afraid; / for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken" (NRSV).
Micah's prophetic dream points to a time when all peoples will journey to God's presence so God "may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths" (4:2). Micah describes God as the final judge and the nations will travel to God's presence out of their desire to live in peace without violence and bloodshed.
The stunning imagery of Micah's dream is the transformation of weapons into instruments of harvesting food that occurs after the judgments are handed down to the nations. The transformation is not complete until the nations participate in their own transformation. The work that went into creating the weapons will be matched by the human effort it will take to transform those weapons into peaceful instruments. God does not collect or hide the weapons from the nations, nor does God transform the weapons outside of human effort. The text states that the nations themselves, "shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks."
Violence, in so many ways, is fueled by fear and self-protection. Iron plows and pruning tools can be used as weapons. Yet, in Micah's vision, genuine peace and security are given to all people by God after the weapons of violence are transformed: "they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid." Culture as well as weapons will be transformed: Indeed, "neither shall they learn war any more."
Whether it happens in the towns of northeastern Nigeria, a suburb in the United States, the streets of Australia, or an office in France, gun violence has become an all-too-often frightening phenomenon. We need the reality of Micah's vision more than ever.
Small arms include assault rifles, submachine guns, light machine guns, grenade launchers, portable anti-aircraft guns and anti-tank guns, among other weapons (Small Arms Survey, http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/weapons-and-markets/definitions.html). Nations encumbered with violence from small arms face the greatest obstacles to delivering social services to those who need them the most (Ibid.). Armed violence contributes to crime, human trafficking, drug trafficking, gender-based violence, racial and ethnic conflicts, systemic economic inequalities, persistent unemployment, and human rights abuses among other social maladies (Small Arms Survey, http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/armed-violence/social-and-economic-costs/impact-on-development.html). In many countries small arms are the greatest hindrance to food security.
One crucial step toward curbing this violence on an international scale is the Arms Trade Treaty that passed the United Nations in 2013. Its focus is to prevent arms from being traded into already dangerous situations. The treaty does not regulate the trade of small arms within nations. In adopting the treaty, the 118 nations that signed it and the 31 nations that have already ratified it are stating that gun violence is a universal problem devastating lives and creating tremendous instability in nations and entire regions in the world (http://disarmament.un.org/treaties/t/att/deposit/asc).
Gun violence also greatly affects families and individuals. One of the most prominent forms of gun violence is suicide. Worldwide, there are nearly one million suicides every year, which amounts to more than 3,000 per day (World Health Organization, International Association for Suicide Prevention, http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suicideprevent/en/, Worldwide Suicide Prevention Day is September 10,http://www.iasp.info/wspd/). While not all of these involve firearms access to firearms makes suicide more attainable for many who attempt it. Indeed, firearms are the most frequent method for suicides in countries where firearms are common in private households (World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/86/9/07-043489/3n/).
When domestic violence incidents involve the use of firearms the results are often deadly. "Gender inequality, tolerance and cultural acceptance of the use of violence against women, and common notions of masculinity that embrace firearms possession (which may be supported by both men and women) all combine to create a climate that places women at risk of Intimate Partner Violence involving firearms" (Small Arms Survey, http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/fileadmin/docs/A-Yearbook/2013/en/Small-Arms-Survey-2013-Chapter-2-summary-EN.pdf). A US-based study of mass shootings between January 2009 and January 2013 revealed that 57 percent of the incidents involved the killing of a family member, or a current or former intimate partner of the shooter (https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.mayorsagainstillegalguns.org/images/analysis-of-recent-mass-shootings.pdf).
As followers of Jesus, called to live into the reality of God's dream of shalom as described by Micah, we must address the epidemic of gun violence so "that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in God's paths." Therefore, we call upon United Methodists to prayerfully address gun violence in their local context. Some of the ways in which to prevent gun violence include the following:
1. For congregations to make preventing gun violence a regular part of our conversations and prayer times. Gun violence must be worshipfully and theologically reflected on, and we encourage United Methodist churches to frame conversations theologically by utilizing resources such as "Kingdom Dreams, Violent Realities: Reflections on Gun Violence from Micah 4:1-4" produced by the General Board of Church and Society.
2. For congregations to assist those affected by gun violence through prayer, pastoral care, creating space, and encouraging survivors to share their stories, financial assistance, and through identifying other resources in their communities as victims of gun violence and their families walk through the process of grieving and healing.
3. For individual United Methodists who own guns as hunters or collectors to safely and securely store their guns and to teach the importance of practicing gun safety.
4. For United Methodist congregations that have not experienced gun violence to form ecumenical and interfaith partnerships with faith communities that have experienced gun violence in order to support them and learn from their experiences.
5. For United Methodist congregations to lead or join in ecumenical or interfaith gatherings for public prayer at sites where gun violence has occurred and partner with law enforcement to help prevent gun violence.
6. For United Methodist congregations to partner with local law-enforcement agencies and community groups to identify gun retailers that engage in retail practices designed to circumvent laws on gun sales and ownership, encourage full legal compliance, and to work with groups like Heeding God's Call that organize faith-based campaigns to encourage gun retailers to gain full legal compliance with appropriate standards and laws.
7. For United Methodist congregations to display signs that prohibit carrying guns onto church property.
8. For United Methodist congregations to advocate at the local and national level for laws that prevent or reduce gun violence. Some of those measures include:
• Universal background checks on all gun purchases
• Ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty
• Ensuring all guns are sold through licensed gun retailers
• Prohibiting all individuals convicted of violent crimes from purchasing a gun for a fixed time period
• Prohibiting all individuals under restraining order due to threat of violence from purchasing a gun
• Prohibiting persons with serious mental illness, who pose a danger to themselves and their communities, from purchasing a gun
• Ensuring greater access to services for those suffering from mental illness
• Establishing a minimum age of 21 years for a gun purchase or possession
• Banning large-capacity ammunition magazines and weapons designed to fire multiple rounds each time the trigger is pulled
• Promoting new technologies to aid law-enforcement agencies to trace crime guns and promote public safety.
See Social Principles, ¶ 162.
From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church - 2016. Copyright © 2016 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.
2022 Conference Resolution
Whereas, on May 24th, 2022, an 18 year old entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas and murdered 19 elementary school children and 2 teachers;
and Whereas, on May 18th, 2022, an 18 year old entered the Tops Market in Buffalo, New York and murdered 10 African-American people;
and Whereas these events are only two of the 213 mass shootings that have taken place in the United States in the first 145 days of 2022;
and Whereas, mass shootings have been occurring across the United States with alarming frequency over the past 23 years, from places such as schools in Columbine and Newtown and Parkland, to a movie theater in Aurora, to a nightclub in Orlando, to houses of worship like the Tree of Life Synagogue and Mother Emanuel AME Church;
and Whereas the 2016 United Methodist Book of Resolutions states that “as followers of Jesus,.... we must address the epidemic of gun violence” and calls on “United Methodist to prayerfully address gun violence in their local context,”
and Whereas the May 25, 2022 statement from the United Methodist Council of Bishops calls on the church to “move from words to actions,” and “actively work to transform lives from violence to peace, elect officials that will not settle for inaction, and inject communities with the grace and love of Christ that will alter the course of our current behaviors;”
THEREFORE, the Tennessee Western Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church calls on President Joe Biden, U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn, Bill Haggerty, Mitch McConnell, and Rand Paul; Governors Bill Lee and Andy Beshear; as well as other members of local, state, and U.S. governments to implement specific laws at the local, state, and national level that prevent or reduce gun violence. Specifically, we call on these representatives to implement the following measures as listed in resolution #3428 in the 2016 United Methodist Book of Resolutions:
Universal background checks on all gun purchases;
Ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty; Ensuring all guns are sold through licensed gun retailers;
Prohibiting all individuals convicted of violent crimes from purchasing a gun for a fixed time period;
Prohibiting all individuals under restraining order due to threat of violence from purchasing a gun;
Prohibiting persons with serious mental illness, who pose a danger to themselves and their communities, from purchasing a gun;
Ensuring greater access to services for those suffering from mental illness;
Establishing a minimum age of 21 years for a gun purchase or possession;
Banning large-capacity ammunition magazines and weapons designed to fire multiple rounds each time the trigger is pulled; and
Promoting new technologies to aid law-enforcement agencies to trace crime guns and promote public safety.
FURTHERMORE, the Tennessee Western Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church calls on all United Methodist churches, clergy, and laity, in the words of Bishop Bickerton, “to find a way to keep these stories on the front page of our consciousness and let nothing detract from our commitment to curb violence, fight for justice, end systemic racism, elect politicians with courage, deeply listen to those who have been harmed, and genuinely seek the power of the Holy Spirit to lift us from this posture of paralysis into a mode of action.”
This includes standing in solidarity with communities who have experienced gun violence, preaching against a culture of violence, and making conscious efforts to dismantle systems of oppression.