Today, as we remember the massacre of school children and their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and the myriad of mass shootings that took place before and since that terrible day six years ago, we must acknowledge that the disease of gun violence has seeped into the very fabric of life in the United States – our schools, our houses of worship, our shopping malls and grocery stores, our neighborhoods and baseball fields, our movie theaters, bars, night clubs, and places of recreation. This nation’s love affair with violence and with guns is a sin and it is long past time that we repent.
Six years ago, as the events of the day unfolded and the news constantly scrolled pictures of traumatized children, we, in the Office of Public Witness, struggled with the horror, trying to comprehend the depravity of our sin. For it was not just the sin of one man with a gun, but rather, a national sin that has allowed the idolatry of guns to take precedence over our care of each other and the safety of our children. For those in the Sandy Hook community, it was a personal loss, but we also suffered a loss as a nation. Surely, we said, this was the time to address the scourge of gun violence in the United States. After years of arguing and persuading to no avail, the murder of innocents must surely move elected officials to take action to prevent gun violence. But we were wrong.
In the six years since the massacre at Sandy Hook, over 7,000 children have died by gun violence in the U.S. This figure does not include wounded children or adult victims of firearm-related incidents.(1) Nor does it account for the psychological trauma that millions of school children endure as they routinely undertake lockdown drills and active-shooter drills in the places where they are supposed to learning, growing, and building confidence.
Mass shootings and gun violence are completely preventable. The United States only makes up five percent of the world’s population but holds 31 percent of the world’s mass shooters. And mass shootings make up only a tiny percentage–less than two percent–of overall gun deaths in the U.S.(2) Furthermore, people in the United States own more guns per capita than any other country in the world, almost half of the all of the world’s privately-owned firearms.(3) When compared to other developed nations, the United States stands out uniquely as having the highest rate of gun deaths among its peers, with a homicide by firearm rate six times higher than our neighbor to the north, Canada (4) and a homicide by firearm rate 25 times higher, on average, than other high-income countries. (5)
Mass public violence is very difficult to perpetrate successfully without firearms. No other weapon provides such an easy way to harm or kill multiple victims. The accessibility of any sort of firearm increases the risk of gun-related violence, but guns that fire rapidly, commonly referred to as assault weapons, are particularly egregious. They have no purpose but to shoot and kill as many people as possible in quick succession. They are not hunting weapons, nor are they weapons that would be used to defend a residence or someone’s personal safety. They are weapons of war that have no place in the hands of civilians.
These shootings are not limited to liberal or conservative political views. They are not limited to one particular ethnic group. They are not even indicated by a person’s mental health. Indeed, people living with mental illness are more likely to become victims of gun violence than perpetrators.(6) Some of these incidents have their roots in fear or anger, others in isolation or despair. But all of these events – 100 percent of them – share the common link that access to guns in the United States is easy. If guns were not accessible, mass shootings would not be possible.
To add insult to grievous injury, victims and their families have little recourse. Gun manufacturers and dealers have been held harmless by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) of 2005,(7) which prevents victims of gun violence and their families from seeking redress through litigation.
Therefore, the Office of Public Witness reiterates the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s previous call for common sense gun violence regulations. We call for legislation that will—
- Ban all assault weapons and high capacity magazines. These are weapons of war and have no place in the hands of common citizens.
- Require universal background checks when purchasing any firearm.
- Make gun trafficking a federal crime.
- Repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which protects firearms manufacturers and dealers from litigation by victims of their products. We stand with Sandy Hook parents and other victims who wish to hold the gun industry accountable.
In a world of sin and tragedy, we put our faith in a God who promises fullness of life, healing, and liberation to the captives. Let us repent of our love affair with guns and be set free from the cage of violence and fear to which we have become so accustomed.