While we await the implementation of these plans, we affirm the need for a multi-pronged approach to confront this contemporary reality rooted in the racist, painful, and often undiscussed history of our country.
Likewise, as we reel from the recent shootings at three Atlanta massage parlors in which eight people were killed – including six women of Asian descent – and from last week’s mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado, we must not focus exclusively on new laws. Rather, it is essential that we invest also in conversations about gun-related deaths in underinvested communities and, perhaps most critically, our country’s enduring obsession with firearms.
Certainly, the U.S. Senate must take up and approve the House-passed Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021 (HR 8) and the Charleston gun purchase loophole. A federal universal background check law would require a background check of anyone who wants to purchase a firearm, with the goal of identifying people who are not legally permitted to own guns.
Under current law, people who purchase guns from federally licensed gun dealers must pass criminal background checks, but similar checks are not required when purchasing guns from unlicensed sellers, such as dealers who sell guns online or at gun shows.
In addition to supporting the legislation themselves, we need our U.S. Senators from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island to encourage their Senate colleagues to do so, as well. Closing this loophole would help us address the scourge of tragic, high-profile shootings that involve multiple victims as well as the gun-involved deaths that occur each day in our cities and are largely ignored as routine.
The Southern New England Conference states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island all have laws that require background checks for all gun purchases. We have proof that this works, both nationally and at home.
At the federal level, more than 3.5 million sales to prohibited purchasers have been blocked since the federal law impacting licensed gun sellers went into effect. In Connecticut, when a law passed that requires background checks -- both for handgun purchase permits and at the point of sale – the state’s firearm homicide rate decreased by 40 percent and its firearm suicide rate decreased by 15 percent. (Read more) Rhode Island legislators are now considering a range of state-specific bills that would enforce stricter rules to reduce straw purchases, decrease the number of high-capacity firearms, and increase accountability requirements for all gun owners to safely store their firearms.
But federal laws are not our only challenge and strengthening them is not the entire solution. Each of us also has a role to play in changing the narrative about guns. Too often, people who oppose reasonable reforms insist that we must choose between gun violence prevention and gun ownership. Obviously, the two can coexist.
For people of faith, this is also a theological matter. When we argue for responsible legal gun ownership, including bans on semi-automatic firearms and high-capacity ammunitions magazines, we are also inviting our country to end its idolatry of guns. Obviously, some people of faith own handguns. Yet, when we do, our faith compels us to avoid the worship of guns that has made them so prevalent, treasured, and valorized in our society.
In times of stress and challenge, we become even more enamored with guns. For example, the number of people seeking to purchase guns from legal dealers and therefore undergoing federal background checks has broken records during the COVID-19 pandemic. We must remember, however, that even legally owned, reasonable capacity handguns can lead to destructive and deadly outcomes, especially when they are used in times of high pressure and uncertainty.
The answers are not simple, yet we are called always to remember our faith commitments and the role that we are uniquely able to play in bringing about a more just, equitable, and peaceable society. Our sacred texts are indispensable in this work, and just as the Prophet Isaiah called his people to bend their swords into plowshares, so we are called to seek alternatives to violence and weaponry today.
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The Rev. Dr. James D. Ross II is Director Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. He also provides support and leadership within the Conference, our churches, other settings of the United Church of Christ, and the communities where we live, worship and ...