By Bob Allen
With the one-year anniversary of the deadly mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., looming Dec. 14, 53 national faith leaders asked Congress to support bipartisan legislation that extends background checks to private gun sales in commercial settings.
“With heavy hearts, we now approach the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14, 2012,” members of Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence wrote Dec. 9 in a letter to members of Congress. “On that tragic day, our nation saw the loss of 20 defenseless young children and six of the teachers and administrators that cared for them.”
Signers included Carroll Baltimore, president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention; Carol Blythe, president of the Alliance of Baptists; Walter Parrish, executive minister of American Baptist Churches of the South; LeDayne McLeese Polaski, program coordinator of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America; and Aidsand Wright-Riggins, executive director of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.
The letter said faith leaders have been on the front line of responding to grief caused by the unnecessary loss of 26 lives in Newtown — as well as in other communities affected by mass shootings like those at the Navy Yard in September and at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., in the summer of 2012 — and the time has come for Congress to do its part in preventing future tragedies.
“Gun violence is taking an unacceptable toll on our society,” the letter said. “While we continue to pray for the families and friends of those who died and share in their grief, we must also support our prayers with action. We have a moral obligation to keep guns out of the hands of people who may harm themselves or others.”
Faith leaders reiterated their earlier support of laws to expand gun background checks to gun shows, Internet sales and commercial sales.
A gun control compromise fashioned by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to require background checks on all commercial sales of guns garnered a 54-46 majority vote in April but needed 60 votes to move forward.
The Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act of 2013, a measure sponsored by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) — which would expand background checks but also has features designed to attract support from gun-rights advocates such as banning gun ownership lists — remains stuck in a committee.
Curtis Ramsey-Lucas, managing director of resource development for American Baptist Home Mission Societies, encouraged American Baptists to join the call to action. He suggested writing individual letters to Congress and joining an “Interfaith Call-In Day” to end gun violence Dec. 13.
“We also invite American Baptist congregations to participate in the Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath Weekend, March 13-16, 2014, and to encourage others in your community to do the same,” Ramsey-Lucas said.