A coalition of 50 groups representing various faith communities across the nation urged leaders in Congress to take immediate action to curb gun violence in response to the Nov. 5 slaughter of 26 people attending worship at a small-town Southern Baptist church in Texas.
Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence — with members including the Alliance of Baptists, American Baptist Home Mission Societies and Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America — told leaders of both parties in the House and Senate that “the onslaught of gun violence plaguing our nation” demands action beyond the expression of thoughts and prayers.
“As organizations of faith, we strongly believe in the power of prayer,” said the letter dated Nov. 9. “And yet, we know that prayer is a call to action rather than a substitute for it.”
The faith leaders urged Congress to ban the purchase and sale of assault weapons, high-capacity ammunition magazines and gun silencers. They asked lawmakers to tighten loopholes in existing guns laws that allow weapons to fall into dangerous hands and opposed new legislation that would allow persons with concealed carry permits in one state to legally carry their gun in another state with stricter requirements for getting a permit.
“All people in our beloved country deserve to feel safe in their houses of worship and their communities; inaction is immoral and wrong,” the coalition letter said. “The message that we deliver today is urgent — lives are on the line and there is no time to waste.”
The recent attack on First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in which 20 other people were also wounded, is the deadliest shooting in a house of worship in modern U.S. history. It comes on the heels of nine murders in 2015 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., and is the 14th fatal shooting to occur at a church, mosque, Jewish center or Sikh temple since 2012.
The faith leaders also took note that the AR-15 type rifle used in Sutherland Springs is the same weapon used in previous attacks in Aurora, Colo.; Orlando, Fla.; Las Vegas, Nev.; San Bernardino, Calif., and Newtown, Conn.
The faith leaders also opposed efforts to expand “concealed carry reciprocity” — a top legislative priority of the NRA making it easier for permit holders to travel with a firearm — saying it would “turn our houses of worship into congregations armed with guns and weaponry.”
In addition to signing the letter, American Baptist Home Mission Societies ran an article in The Christian Citizen magazine countering arguments that appeal to the Second Amendment as a barrier to legislative action to regulate guns.
Analyzing a 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court in 2008 that affirmed the “rights of individuals to possess and keep a loaded handgun in the home for self-defense,” William J. Everett, an emeritus professor of Christian social ethics at Andover Newton Theological School, said the majority ruling “does not limit states or the federal government from regulating firearms outside the home in the interests of public safety.”