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Presbyterian Peacemaking Program hosts gun violence prevention discussion at General Assembly

Grassroots campaign wants to connect with gun manufacturers

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

PORTLAND – The statistics surrounding gun violence deaths in the United States are staggering. According to the PEW Research Center, more than 30,000 people are killed by firearms each year in this country. More than 30 are shot and murdered each day and half of them are between the ages of 18 and 35. Homicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds and the primary cause of death among African Americans of that age group.

The Orlando massacre nearly two weeks ago has once again brought the issue of gun violence to the forefront of national discussions and there has been a lot to talk and pray about at the 222nd General Assembly. The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program hosted a conversation in the exhibit hall this week with a Milwaukee pastor who is discussing a national campaign entitled “Do Not Stand Idly By.”

The grassroots campaign, according to organizers, is not working to get guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens, but to modernize and stabilize the U.S. gun industry. The Rev. Jean Dow, pastor of the Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Milwaukee launched a local chapter of the campaign in her church following a showing and discussion around the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance documentary “Trigger.”

The Rev. Jean Dow (center) leads an informal discussion in the Exhibit Hall at General Assembly about a campaign to reach out to gun manufacturers. Photo by Rick Jones.

The Rev. Jean Dow (center) leads an informal discussion in the Exhibit Hall at General Assembly about a campaign to reach out to gun manufacturers. Photo by Rick Jones.

Dow told a small group at the Monday discussion that her church has been impacted by gun violence and that prompted members of the congregation to take action. She referred to a pediatric surgeon who tried to save the life of a young girl who had been shot when a stray bullet entered her home.

“This doctor had to tell the girl’s family he couldn’t save her. As his pastor, I saw that this broke him,” said Dow. “There are others in our church including a firefighter, state legislator and others who face the ripple affects of gun violence. It impacts all of us.”

Dow says her church is taking a specialized approach to the campaign adding they don’t take on large issues or problems they can’t solve but instead, break them down to small issues that are winnable. “In this political climate, we knew doing something legislatively wouldn’t fly.  We looked at addressing this through the marketplace.”

The campaign is focusing on the gun manufacturer. “There was a gentleman in ‘Trigger’ who was quoted as saying we need to follow the money,” said Dow. “That’s what we are trying to do by reaching out to gun manufacturers.”

Dow says they want to encourage or pressure manufacturers to develop safe gun technology and market responsibly, addressing gun violence as a public health issue. The campaign is working to secure 100 signatures from mayors, police chiefs and other community leaders to acquire information from the manufacturers. The end goal is new safety technology that can prevent tragedies when guns fall into the wrong hands.

“This is not going to take all of the violence away. But we had a four-year-old boy who accidentally shot and killed his mother in Milwaukee,” said Dow. “That tragedy might have been prevented if we had safe guns.”

Jill Bolander-Cohen from the Central Florida Presbytery, attended the gun safety discussion. Her presbytery recently hosted a local Compassion, Peace and Justice training day where local church leaders participated in social justice discussions including gun safety.

“We had a great turnout for the people who are already active. We would have liked to have seen more attend,” she said. “Then two or three weeks later we have this massacre in Orlando and everyone is now jumping on board concerned about gun violence. We will see if we can engage with them further with this campaign.” 

Bolander-Cohen describes herself as a connector and says she will work to connect and “prod the right people” to make sure this campaign goes to the next level in her presbytery.

“We have Presbyterians who are engaging in social activism and social justice because they are consistent with what the PC(USA) has said about gun violence,” said Carl Horton, coordinator for the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. “While we are not partners with ‘Do Not Stand Idly By’, they are doing the work we are calling Presbyterians to engage in, so I would be comfortable encouraging congregations to form new chapters.”

Horton was happy to hear that “Trigger” played a part in encouraging Dow’s church to take action.

“It’s encouraging to see a church resource prompt action on behalf of a church,” said Horton. “I would love to see other presbyteries, impacted by violence, bring in speakers, show ‘Trigger’, and actually talk about it.”

Bolander-Cohen says “People have to get involved, you can’t turn your head and look the other way anymore.”

For more information about “Do Not Stand Idly By” click here.

Gifts to the Peace & Global Witness Offering help support the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program.

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