Clergy press for assault-weapon ban

Clergy in Newtown, Conn., joined by thousands of signatories collected online, called March 11 on the U.S. Senate to enact stronger gun control.

By Bob Allen

More than 4,000 congregational leaders have signed an open letter to U.S. senators urging them to pass comprehensive gun violence prevention legislation.

The letter calls for legislation that includes a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, enforceable universal background checks, an end to gun trafficking and prosecution of straw purchasers.

Spearheaded by clergy in Newtown, Conn., the letter comes three months after gunman Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and six adults before taking his own life in a mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School and as the Senate Judiciary Committee debated several gun-control bills introduced in response.

The PICO National Network, Sojourners, National Council of Churches and Auburn Seminary combined to collect signatures over a 72-hour period to add to the names of 12 Newtown ministers who signed the original letter.

The letter was published March 11 in The Des Moines Register, hometown paper of Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and is scheduled to run March 12 in Politico.

paula dempseyThe collected signatures are listed alphabetically. Individuals are identified only by city of residence, and not denomination, but Baptist leaders signing include Carroll Baltimore, president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention; Paula Dempsey, minster for partnership relations for the Alliance of Baptists; LeDayne McLeese Polaski of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America; Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, and Julius Scruggs, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.

Other nationally known signatories include Sister Simone Campbell of last year’s Nuns on the Bus campaign for social justice; Interfaith Alliance head Welton Gaddy, a Baptist minister; and author Brian McLaren.

The faith leaders pledged to “foster “a culture of peace to complement and serve as a foundation for any proposed gun legislation.” While fully supporting laws they believe will increase gun safety, the clergy identified a larger underlying spiritual issue of “how we view our obligations to each other in light of our role in God's creation.”

“The slaughter of innocence in Newtown awakened our nation to the tragedy of gun violence throughout our land, and we shall neither slumber nor sleep,” they said. “Rather, by tireless commitment, loving hearts and the sustaining promise of our many faiths, we believe that Newtown shall be remembered as the bridge to a new and kinder world.”