Choose Life: End Gun Violence

vector illustration of no guns allowed sign
vector illustration of no guns allowed sign

If we have learned anything from this terribly tragic year in American society, it is the simple fact that no one in America is safe from gun violence. The situation in our country is just that bad.

In tragedy after tragedy this year, we've seen that the epidemic of gun violence is not contained to one community or group, but that it touches us all regardless of geography or race, age or occupation, religion or political party. And when it does, the grief that tears at the heart of a mother in the inner city of New York is the same as that of a brother in rural Iowa and a daughter in the suburbs of Ohio.

The President's emotional speech and passionate town hall this week reflected that awful truth about gun violence that we as faith leaders and clergy see firsthand: the terrible statistic that over 30,000 Americans are lost every year to gun violence, far more than in any other industrial nation, translates to families destroyed and lives ruined. In one of the most advanced countries in the world, this reality is wrong and, worse, utterly shameful.

Because of this, we, faith leaders and members of Mayor de Blasio's Clergy Advisory Council, watched with great relief as President Obama announced an executive order that would take meaningful action to begin to stem gun violence that has continued to wreak havoc in our communities.

While many in our country only see the statistics, our communities of faith have the regular and devastating duty of bearing the consequences of the tragedies caused by guns. We care for the families and loved ones of victims of gun violence. We compose eulogies for young people gunned down, sit with too many grieving parents who have endured the unspeakable tragedy of losing a child, and struggle week after week to find words to address in public worship the deep lament of one senseless tragedy after another.

This work of finding appropriate words of lament as we've watched our lawmakers largely sit idly by is infuriating; we know that so many of these losses are avoidable if only our political leaders would act with courage and conviction.

Scripture recounts God speaking to the people of Israel saying, "See I have set before you life and death... Choose life so that you and your descendants may live." President Obama has acted with courage and conviction, speaking truth to a powerful gun lobby and leading us to choose life. Finally.

In the absence of meaningful Congressional action to stem gun violence, we are committed to following President Obama's courageous public stance by continuing our work against gun violence here in New York City. We have done this after Sandy Hook, the lapse of the assault weapons ban, and every time innocent life is taken, and will continue until this epidemic is addressed. In addition to day-to-day support for families and individuals in crisis, we continue to work with Mayor de Blasio's office on his Clergy Advisory Council. In this role, we support, organize, and empower congregations of all faiths throughout the city to take meaningful steps to curb gun violence.

Our committee furthers the outstanding leadership that Mayor de Blasio has provided on this issue. The Mayor has worked tirelessly to make New York City the safest city in America by building strong bonds between the community and police, by promoting collaboration between the City's criminal justice agencies, district attorneys, and courts, and by investing in technology that makes our communities safer.

It takes courage to use a political platform to make meaningful change on the issue of gun violence. We're deeply grateful for the President's courage, and the Mayor's willingness to use his platform to push for common sense gun reforms on all levels of government. From calling on government pension funds to divest from gun manufacturers, lobbying Washington to crack down on illegal gun dealers, to keeping assault weapons out of the hands of civilians, Mayor de Blasio has provided visionary leadership in the movement to end gun violence.

Still, we know from one heartbreaking experience after another that no one President, Mayor, Pastor, or Task Force will be able to finally stem gun violence in our country once and for all. We need every person of faith and conscience to roll up their sleeves, add a strident voice to this effort, and get to work on this issue.

We are lucky in New York City that our congressional delegation has the courage to lead on gun safety. How egregious that we must organize to defeat the intransigence of other elected congressional representatives, who prefer to pander to special interest groups like the NRA instead of honoring their responsibility to help us build a safer America, a society full of all the promise we hope for those who will inherit this great nation after we are gone.

After endless cycles of death, suffering, and public grief punctuating much of 2015, our country yearns for life. Our children deserve nothing less, and we cannot abdicate our responsibility to make a safe and nurturing society reality for all of our children. President Obama has acted with courage and conviction this week; may we gather our own resolve to follow his example by contacting our elected officials across the country to say publicly and boldly that we will not tolerate any more senseless violence, and that we will, defiantly and persistently, choose life.

Rev. Michael Walrond
Senior Pastor at First Corinthian Baptist Church
Chair of the Mayor's Clergy Advisory Council

Rev. Amy Butler
Senior Pastor, The Riverside Church of New York City
Co-chair, Public Safety Committee, Mayor's Clergy Advisory Council

Rev. Fred Davie
Executive Vice President, Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York
Co-chair, Public Safety Committee, Mayor's Clergy Advisory Council