By Bob Allen
Southern Baptists’ top spokesman for moral issues wrote President Obama recently supporting gun-control measures that don’t infringe on the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.
Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, voiced support for mandatory criminal background checks for all gun sales and making gun trafficking a federal crime.
The letter dated, Jan. 15, coincided with a letter from 47 faith leaders including representatives of the Alliance of Baptists, American Baptist Churches USA and the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, urging action to curb violence like the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 first graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The letter, organized by Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, asked members of Congress to enact laws similar to those proposed by Land, but added an additional demand for a ban on high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines.
Land, a gun owner but not a member of the NRA, told National Public Radio in mid-December that he personally has no problem with laws banning certain types of weapons, but he knows there are many Americans who do.
Land, criticized in the past for defending George Zimmerman, the neighborhood-watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., charged with second-degree murder in the February 2012 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, urged Obama to consider regional differences in policies aimed at curbing gun violence.
“We consider an effort to apply the same gun restriction laws across the entire populace to be unworkable and of considerable offense to many,” Land wrote. “We recommend that you allow the individual states’ elected representatives to decide whether to implement any restrictions you may choose to enforce or to enact their own restrictions based on the needs and interests of their own citizens.”
That’s similar to advice given by former President Bill Clinton, a Southern Baptist, who recently told Democratic leaders not to underestimate the passion that gun control stirs among many Americans.
“A lot of these people live in a world very different from the world lived in by the people proposing these things,” Clinton said in a 40-minute speech reported by Politico. “I know because I come from this world.”
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission takes positions on a broad array of moral and social concerns. Many reflect views expressed in resolutions adopted at annual meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC has never taken a formal stand on gun control, however, with the exception of a single sentence in a 1968 resolution on violence that urged Congress to “pass laws to bring the insane traffic in guns to a halt, while maintaining the constitutional right to the legitimate possession of arms.”