In light of the recent shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon in which eight students and an assistant professor were killed, PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness (OPW) hosted a webinar to provide a forum for discussion and advocacy strategy. The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, OPW’s director, discussed gun violence and its underlying causes, urging participants to lobby elected officials to enact measures that will eradicate or reduce gun violence in the United States.

In a statement announcing the webinar, Nelson reminded Presbyterians they have a responsibility to broaden relationships with other faith communities to create a broad-based social movement to prevent gun violence.

“Our church can and should lead the way in the broader faith community to the creation of a broad-based social movement to prevent gun violence, beginning with and led by an opening to the Holy Spirit and drawing its strength from the grassroots, especially people in the pews,” said Nelson. “Such a coalition of congregations and other faith communities can take practical direct action on local levels while generating critical change in cultural norms and attitudes towards guns, their possession, distribution, and use.”

Nelson stated that several illegal activities including human trafficking, drug sales and prostitution are protected by guns. He also noted that gun violence is not confined to ghettos and that mass shootings happen at shopping malls, college campuses and churches in the U.S., and is indicative of a systemic struggle throughout the country. Nelson proposed five legislative priorities he believes will begin the process toward reducing or eradicating gun violence in the U.S.:

  • Ban all assault weapons and high capacity magazines
  • Require universal background checks when purchasing firearms
  • Make gun trafficking a federal crime
  • Stop the straw purchase of guns
  • Close the gun show loophole that allows gun sales between individuals without background checks [Editor’s note: Federally licensed gun sellers are required to conduct background checks on all sales, including at gun shows.]

Herbert believes we have a responsibility to do whatever one can to raise awareness in our own communities, and suggested steps to create conversations and raise consciousness at the local level. He recommends screening the PC(USA) documentary, Trigger, which addresses the impact of gun violence on communities. He also pointed to Gun Violence and Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call, a report approved by the 219th General Assembly (2010) that addresses a community-based strategy for dealing with gun violence.

“We’re not powerless in this struggle,” says Herbert. “It’s a challenge for us to remember that the individuals in Washington are there because we put them there, and we should remind them that the way we put you there is the same way we can remove you.”

Clarifying that the goal is eradication of gun violence and not gun control, Herbert urged attendees to call, email, tweet or write handwritten letters to their congressional representatives. The Senate is in recessOct. 12-16 and the House of Representatives is in recess Oct. 12-16 and Nov. 9-13, when Nelson says representatives will likely be available in their home offices.

A recorded version of the webinar is available at this link.