Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut and Bishop Marianne Edgar Budde of Washington reflect on ongoing violence and political cowardice on the anniversary of the shootings in Newtown.
Yesterday the National Cathedral held a vigil for victims of gun violence.
On the morning that Adam Lanza killed his mother and then opened fire on children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we were on the phone with one another, talking about a priest who was hoping to move from one of our dioceses to the other. There was an early report of a school shooting somewhere in Connecticut, but no official word yet. “It’s a harsh world, Mariann,” Ian said. We paused, prayed silently, and said our goodbyes.
A year later, both of our communities are among the growing list of places across the country with names linked to mass violence: Newtown. The Navy Yard. As bishops, we have led funerals, as pastors we have comforted those who mourn, and as citizens we have petitioned our governments to take steps to prevent such heart-wrenching violence.
Yet our communities’ grief and concern are not limited to the victims of horrific outbursts that seize the nation’s attention. Nearly every day on the streets of our cities, teenagers and young adults die or are forever maimed because of easy access to lethal handguns. Because the vast majority of those killed in urban violence are people of color, handgun violence is largely ignored by white America.
Ignored, too, are those who use a gun to take their own lives. In the United States, on average, approximately 30,000 people are killed by bullet wounds each year. Most of these victims pull the trigger themselves. Many of those who die this way are veterans haunted by the trauma they endured serving our nation. Our hearts break for each and every one of these victims.
We are beyond frustrated with political leaders who continue to turn their backs on this national tragedy. Poll after poll has demonstrated that close to 90 percent of Americans favor closing the loopholes in the national system of background checks that is already in place. More than 50 national religious leaders wrote to every member of Congress this week, urging them to pass the legislation known as the Manchin-Toomey bill in the Senate and the King-Thompson bill in the House. This legislation would expand background checks to cover sales at gun shows and on the Internet.
We know that this legislation will not, by itself, end the mass killings that now occur in this country every other week, according to a recent study by USA Today. By itself, it will not end the violence that takes one life at a time either in suicide or in urban violence. But it will help save hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives, primarily by keeping guns out of the hands of those who are not legally permitted to own them.
RNS reports on the Vigil yesterday:
The crowd hushed, the lights dimmed and the National Cathedral’s bourdon bell chimed for three minutes — each minute to commemorate 10,000 of the 30,000 lives lost to gun violence in the U.S. last year.
The Thursday (Dec. 12) service marked nearly a year since a gunman took 26 lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Americans from a spectrum of faiths prayed, sang and testified about a gun violence epidemic they said is poisoning the nation’s soul.
“We gather today to remember and to honor,” said the Rev. Mel Kawakami, senior minister of Newtown United Methodist Church, ”to work toward a world where there are no more school shootings as there have been in 16 other communities since Sandy Hook.”
Carole King played and sang “In the Name of Love,” on the grand piano before the pulpit, setting a somber but hopeful tone. Pianist Christopher Betts and violinist Sonya Hayes played John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Lennon was shot to death 33 years ago.