General Convention resolutions target gun violence

June 27, 2015

[Episcopal News Service – Salt Lake City] While 1,500 General Convention participants joined a Bishops United Against Gun Violence procession here the morning of June 28, several resolutions targeting gun violence are making their way through the legislative process.

The prayerful procession walked the half-mile from the Salt Palace Convention Center to Pioneer Park while marchers sang hymns and prayed. Members of Utah anti-gun violence groups and civil rights organizations joined in.

Diocese of Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton said society faces what he called an “unholy trinity” of poverty, racism and violence. Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry told participants that they had gotten up early to join the 7:15 a.m. procession because “that unholy trinity threatens the life of us all.”

“But we are really here because there is another trinity,” he said. “There is another trinity that is not an unholy trinity. There is another trinity that is a holy trinity. It is a life-giving trinity.”

Temperatures in Salt Lake City have hovered in the high 90s and low 100s since bishops, deputies and convention staff and volunteers began gathering for convention on June 22. An hour before the procession, the temperature was 75 degrees and rose steadily through the day. It was 103 degrees at 6:30 p.m.

The most-comprehensive resolution facing bishops and deputies, C005 from the Diocese of Los Angeles, urges legislators at all levels of government to implement laws requiring criminal background checks and gun-safety training for gun purchases; banning certain types of assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and kits to convert guns into automatic weapons; cracking down on gun trafficking; and promoting funding for gun-violence research. The latest version of the resolution calls for recognizing “the impact of existing inheritance laws on the transfer of gun ownership” and eliminates the original resolution’s call for taxes on sales of guns and ammunition, and a personal income tax credit for those surrendering firearms in gun-buyback programs.

Resolution B008, proposed by Diocese of Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas, urges dioceses “to advocate for handgun purchaser licensing in their local contexts.”

A Province III resolution that originated in the Diocese of Bethlehem, C030, calls on the church to urge the U.S. president and congressional leaders to enact laws “to ban the sale, transfer, importation and manufacture of fully automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines, armor-piercing ammunition and kits that convert ammunition-feeding devices into large-capacity magazines capable of using over 10 rounds.”

Resolution D018, proposed by the Rev. William Exner, chair of the New Hampshire deputation, urges Episcopalians to ask legislators at all levels of government “to support public policies that curb gun violence by: requiring and enforcing universal background checks on all sales; banning all future sales of military style semi-automatic weapons, high impact ammunition and high capacity magazines; and requiring permits to carry concealed weapons.”

The mass shooting of students and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012 triggered Resolution C005, said the Rev. Gary Commins, rector of St. Luke’s, Long Beach, California, and a diocesan deputy. He preached a Feast of the Holy Innocents sermon about the shooting, inviting those interested in finding ways to combat gun violence to gather in January 2013. Among other actions, this led to passage of the resolution General Convention is now considering.

Resolution sponsors tried to propose legislative actions that could be achieved in the next decade, Commins said. While federal legislation may not pass, “states can sure enact things.”

“To me, the story of it is that we’re just trying to limit gun violence,” he said. “We’re really not addressing the overall cultural issue of what a violent people we are.”

His own passion around the issue comes from first-hand experience with the results of gun violence as a priest at various parishes: a drive-by shooting outside church during Bible study; parishioners held at gunpoint, face-down on the sidewalk; a 16-year-old’s suicide by gun; a 12-year-old girl shot in the forehead during a camping trip with her parents.

Personal experience with gun violence also feeds Diocese of Utah Bishop Scott Hayashi’s passion on the subject. Hayashi, who spoke at the June 28 march, was shot point-blank in the side during a robbery while working in a record shop in Tacoma, Washington, when he was 19.

As he describes in a video calling for a conversation by people on all sides of the issue of stopping gun violence, he spent two months in the hospital and years of further reflection and prayer recovering.

Hayashi told ENS he was “of two minds” about the General Convention resolutions. “Who would not want to do what these resolutions are urging?” he asked. “I think we as a convention will pass those. I believe they will pass handily.”

But, he added, “I think sometimes we in The Episcopal Church make bold statements, and we don’t necessarily do anything about them.”

Passing the resolutions will help advocates, who can point to them as the church’s official stance. “In that sense, I’m all for it,” he said.

He sees the need, however, for deep conversation with everyone at the table – gun-control advocates, gun owners, members of the National Rifle Association, gun-violence victims and their families – about how to combat gun violence, he said. “I believe that where we are as a nation is at a place of deep division, where we can’t even have the conversation.”

“Yes, the [General Convention] resolutions are good,” he said. But “if you really want our government to act, then you have to create a groundswell.”

To generate that, the first step is creating a safe space for conversation, to say: “We have a problem. These firearms are being used to kill innocent people. They’re in the wrong hands.  What can we do stop this?” he said. The Episcopal Church has the potential to create that space, Hayashi suggested.

The June 28 march against gun violence here was “a call to claim common ground,” he said. “I believe we have a lot more common ground than most people realize.”

Commins was less enthusiastic about the push for dialogue with all participants, arguing that gun owners and the NRA had received a lot of air time and that more needed to be heard from those affected by gun violence.

“I think there should be a one-year moratorium on gun owners talking about guns,” he said. The next day no one is killed by a gun in the United States, “then gun owners can start talking again.”

— Sharon Sheridan is an ENS correspondent.