Thursday, December 14, 2017 is Gun Violence Awareness Day.
It is also the fifth anniversary of the shooting deaths of 20 first graders and six school staff at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. “In the five years since Sandy Hook, over 165,000 Americans have been killed by gun violence. That’s three times as many Americans who died in the Viet Nam War,” says Presbyterian Pastor Margery Rossi who chairs PPF’s Gun Violence Prevention Working Group. “During this time, Congress has done nothing to make us safer. This must change.” On Dec. 10-14, local Presbyterians across the nation are engaging in action for that very change.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) has called for meaningful gun safety actions since 1968, and public support for strong gun violence prevention steps remains one of the highest areas of citizen agreement. A 2017 poll of gun owners reveals that 80% of gun owners support universal background checks on all gun sales, a key aspect of Presbyterian Church (USA) proposals to prevent gun violence.
This year, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship is coordinating actions for Gun Violence Awareness Day with congregations and people of faith across the country. A sampling of actions includes:
- The First United Church of Oak Park, IL/Chicago, in a city with extreme levels of gun violence, will join other Protestant and Catholic churches in Chicago in ringing their church bells 26 times on Dec. 14, 2017 at 9:35 A.M., symbolizing the 20 first-graders and six school staff killed at the Sandy Hook school, with gunshots starting at approximately 9:35 A.M on December 14, 2012.
- In Atlanta, Georgia, Trinity Presbyterian Church will host a public vigil to call for action to improve and expand the background check system for gun purchases, in conjunction with Outcry Atlanta: Interfaith Voices Against Gun Violence.
- At Yorktown Presbyterian Church in Yorktown Heights, NY, special prayers during worship and a letter-writing opportunity for church members after the service were offered on Sunday Dec. 10. These letters urge elected officials to re-instate the expired ban on military-style assault weapons and ammunition clips designed to kill many human beings in just a few minutes, as at the recent mass shootings in Las Vegas, NV and in Sutherland Springs, TX.
- Rev. Emily Brewer, Executive Director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, will join PPF members Rev. Jim Atwood and Rev. Rhonda Kruse, and clergy of many denominations for a Clergy Witness at the headquarters of the National Rifle Association on Dec. 14 in Fairfax, VA sponsored by Faiths United Against Gun Violence.
- On Dec. 14 the Peace Fellowship will sponsor a social media campaign to call attention to the need for background checks and other reasonable steps to make America safer.
In addition to these Dec. 10-14 actions, Presbyterians are digging in to learn more about gun violence and about the search for a compromise that respects the Second Amendment while protecting the public from death or injury from hand guns and assault weapons. To support engagement with such a challenging issue, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship published the Gun Violence Prevention Congregational Toolkit earlier this year, which provides more than 70 pages of educational, pastoral and action resources. To date, the Toolkit has been acquired by more than 350 Presbyterian congregational leaders in 41 states. The Toolkit is available by free download or in a printed version.
As a result of learning more about the gun violence epidemic and steps to prevent gun violence, Presbyterians across the nation are becoming local activists on the issue. For example, in the Cleveland, OH area, Presbyterian Robert Ault developed a regional conference on reducing gun violence in October 2017, with Rev. Jim Atwood, author of Gundamentalism and Where it is Taking America, as the keynote speaker. In North Carolina, PPF member Sandy Irving shared ten copies of the Congregational Toolkit with churches gathered at a recent Presbytery meeting. Study groups will begin there in January 2018. Over 300 Presbyterians receive a monthly Gun Violence Prevention newsletter from the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship to share educational ideas and support local and nationally-coordinated actions.
The “No Guns in God’s House” Sign Project
On June 12, 2017, the first anniversary of the Orlando, Florida Pulse nightclub shooting, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship called upon local Presbyterian congregations and church-owned properties to post signs such as the “No Guns in God’s House” signage recommended by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). So far, PPF has documented 36 churches that have done so, including the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Arlington, TX, St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Tucson, AZ, and First Presbyterian Church of Morgantown WV. While many Catholic and Episcopal dioceses have posted signs to ban guns in all their churches by action of a presiding bishop, in the Presbyterian Church, each individual congregation studies the issue and decides for itself. It is a careful and deliberative process for each church. These 36 initial churches with signs recall the 36,000 Americans who died from gun violence in 2016. Coordinated by the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, The Sign Project works with congregations across the nation to display these signs as a witness against the proliferation of guns in American society.