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Prayer and witness in the wake of the Oregon tragedy

Roseburg, OR - Copyright the Episcopal Diocese of Newark

Yesterday’s tragedy in Oregon marks the 294th death or injury this year from an act of gun violence that involved the shooting of at least four people (as reported by Mass Shooting Tracker). Many of those shootings have happened in schools. We pray for the fallen and their families – and for those who have been wounded.

And we pray that we can stop this scourge. Yesterday President Obama said that our prayers and thoughts are not enough. I agree with him, yet we still need to be grounded in prayer, in part so as not to be caught up in the polarizing rhetoric and reaction that always seems to surface in the wake of tragedy.

We can also make a witness. Memorials to the Lost, which as a diocese we will participate in on December 13 (along with other religious communities across the East Coast), and which involves displaying T-shirts outside our churches – each with the name and dates of someone killed by gun violence, provides an opportunity to make a visual statement outside the confines of our worship spaces.

We can be careful in the use of language. People whose have dedicated their lives to reducing gun violence implore others to stop talking about “gun control” and instead use the term “gun safety.” “Gun control” shuts down conversation and renders any opportunity for change to get bogged down in fruitless arguments about individual and constitutional rights. Gun safety moves the conversation into the arena of public health. The average of 30,000 deaths by gun violence every year in the United States is a public health issue.

Our governor invoked “gun control” when he vetoed S2360, a bill submitted to the new Jersey State Legislature, which would require local, county and state law enforcement officers to be alerted when people with a history of serious mental illness asks a judge to expunge their record of psychiatric treatment so they may buy a firearm. It was a common sense prevention bill, which had overwhelming bi-partisan support earlier in the year before politics reframed the conversation from safety to control. The State Senate was not able to override the veto, making it easier for mentally ill people to purchase firearms.

We can pray. We can witness. We can reframe our language. And we can make a difference as we join in the Christ-centered and Christ-driven endeavor of bringing peace.


Gun control, gun safety, and the list of suggested ways to not offend the NRA are useless. It is time to use the Second Amendment as Madison and the first Congress intended. Research Madison's decisions and you will find that Madison, and his fellow members of the House of Representatives as well as the authors of the various declarations of rights in the various state constitutions saw the right as derivative of being part of the state regulated militia.

To be sure, the militias run by the states have fallen into disuse, particularly since the Civil War. They were never effective armies but they did put the arms bearing citizens amongst one another on a regular basis. It is time to resurrect the state militias and the Constitution supports that and gives the Commander In Chief the right to call them up. The CIC can, and should direct all states to re-establish the militias, provide screening, training, qualification and discipline to the ranks of those who want to keep and bear arms. Members of the militia will have to be screened, trained and qualified before anyone can sell or transfer a weapon, or ammunition to them and only those items for which the militia certifies them for. There can be no universal license for all weapons - only by type with re-training, re-screening and re-qualification required.

We will never rid the nation of firearms, nor will we rid society of people who want to solve their problems with violence. But we can flush-out the solitary individuals who are the most common perpetrators of the mass shootings. By doing so interventions can happen before tragic incidents.

Let us see the NRA argue to amend the Second Amendment to eliminate the initial clause which sets the dependent relationship. Keeping and bearing arms should again be a civic duty answerable to civil authorities not an individual right that feeds anarchy.

Final note: Statistically, a person with a gun in the house is more likely to commit suicide than be killed by a stranger. Ten times the number of people who died on 11 September 2001 die every year by gun delivered suicide.

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