Church of the Brethren joins in religious coalition working to end gun violence




Church of the Brethren representative is at the press conference Jan. 15, 2013
Photo by courtesy of Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence
Church of the Brethren representative Jonathan Stauffer (left) attended the press conference of Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence. On Tuesday, Jan. 15, faith leaders called on President Obama and Congress to move quickly on legislation that would require background checks on all gun sales and remove military-style assault weapons from our streets.

In response to the recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn., the Church of the Brethren has been collaborating with a coalition of over 40 religious groups as a part of Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence.

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Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence is an alliance of religious groups that bases its work in the belief that, “Gun violence is taking an unacceptable toll on our society, in mass killings and in the constant day-to-day of senseless death. While we continue to pray for the families and friends of those who have perished, we must also support our prayers with action” (www.faithsagainstgunviolence.org ). On Martin Luther King Day 2011, 24 national faith groups announced the formation of the coalition, united by the call of faith to confront America’s gun violence epidemic and to rally support for policies that reduce death and injury from gunfire. Two years later, the coalition has grown to 40 groups representing tens of millions of Americans.

Earlier this month, Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence drafted a letter to President Obama and Congress calling on them to push for a mandatory criminal background check on all gun purchases, a ban on high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines, and to make gun trafficking a federal crime.

Church of the Brethren general secretary Stanley J. Noffsinger signed this letter (see full text below) along with the heads of over 40 other religious groups including the National Council of Churches, the Presbyterian Church USA Office of Public Witness, the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Islamic Society of North America, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Mennonite Central Committee, Sojourners, and the United Church of Christ.

On Jan. 15, representatives from many of these groups came together in Washington, D.C., for a press conference to talk publicly about gun violence and to promote the letter to political leaders. Many faith leaders spoke at the event including Sojourners’ Jim Wallis. The Church of the Brethren was represented by Jonathan Stauffer, an advocacy assistant at the denomination’s Advocacy and Peace Witness Office. The event garnered coverage in many news sources, including the “New York Times” in its “The Lede: Blogging the News with Robert Mackey” and the “Washington Post” ( www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/under-god/post/faith-leaders-launch-gun-control-push/2013/01/15/82d78632-5f2c-11e2-9940-6fc488f3fecd_blog.html ).

Vinny DeMarco, national coordinator for Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, was invited to be at the White House to represent the coalition when President Obama and Vice President Biden announced their gun violence prevention plan on Jan. 16.

Brethren staff who work together regularly on advocacy issues include Nathan Hosler (left), Bryan Hanger (center), and Stan Noffsinger (right)
Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
Church staff who work together regularly on advocacy and peace witness issues include Nathan Hosler (left), Bryan Hanger (center), and Stan Noffsinger (right). The three were photographed together at a staff gathering focused on common work toward the denomination's strategic goals.

In addition to the letter signed by Noffsinger and the continuing work of Advocacy and Peace Witness Ministries, Church of the Brethren members are urged to join a nationwide call-in effort to ask Congress to enact laws to help end gun violence.

On Feb. 4, many faith groups are asking their members to call representatives and senators and tell them how they feel about gun violence. “Faiths Calling: If Not Now, When?” is the name of this call-in effort organized by the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism. For more information go to http://faithscalling.com .

We are asking you to join this effort. The Church of the Brethren has taken a stance on gun violence in the past, most recently in 2010 with a “Resolution in Support of the National Council of Churches of Christ, USA: Ending Gun Violence” (www.brethren.org/about/policies/2010-gun-violence.pdf ). We must now speak up and act again, as this devastating violence cannot go on.

-- Bryan Hanger is an advocacy assistant for the Church of the Brethren and the National Council of Churches, working through Brethren Volunteer Service. Contact the church’s Advocacy and Peace Witness office in Washington, D.C., at 202-481-6931 or e-mail advocacy officer Nathan Hosler at nhosler@brethren.org .


Full text of the letter sent to Congress by Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence:

Faiths United To Prevent Gun Violence
United Methodist Building, 100 Maryland Avenue, N.E., Washington, DC

January 15, 2013

Dear Member of Congress:

On Martin Luther King Day, January 17, 2011, 24 national faith groups announced the formation of “Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence,” a diverse coalition of denominations and faith-based organizations united by the call of our faiths to confront America’s gun violence epidemic and to rally support for policies that reduce death and injury from gunfire. Two years later, we have grown to more than 40 groups representing tens of millions of Americans in faith communities across the nation--and our call to confront this epidemic has grown ever more urgent and imperative.

The recent loss in Connecticut of 20 innocent young children, of the teachers and administrators that cared for them, and of a desperately troubled young man and his mother, tears our hearts and minds to the core. Faith leaders in Newtown have been on the front line of responding to the grief and pain of the families whose loss is unimaginable, and of the entire community there. Across the country, we grieve with our own congregants and communities, and we share their determination to do all within our power to ensure that this never happens again.

In light of the tragedy in Newtown--and in Aurora, Tucson, Fort Hood, Virginia Tech, Columbine, Oak Creek, and so many more--we know that no more time can be wasted. Gun violence is taking an unacceptable toll on our society, in mass killings and in the constant day-to-day of senseless death. While we continue to pray for the families and friends of those who died, we must also support our prayers with action. We should do everything possible to keep guns out of the hands of people who may harm themselves or others. We should not allow firepower to kill large numbers of people in seconds anywhere in our civil society. And we should ensure that law enforcement has the tools it needs to stop the virtually unrestrained trafficking of guns.

Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence member organizations, representing millions of people across the country, urge you to respond to this crisis in our nation. With each day that goes by, dozens more of our children, parents, brothers, and sisters are lost to gun violence. We support immediate legislative action to accomplish the following:

-- Every person who buys a gun should pass a criminal background check. Preventing dangerous people from getting firearms has to be a top priority. Universal background checks via the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) should be utilized in every gun sale, including guns sold online, at gun shows, and through private sales.

-- High-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines should not be available to civilians. There is no legitimate self-defense or sporting purpose for these military-style, high-capacity weapons and magazines. They are, however, the weapons of choice for those who want to shoot and kill a large amount of people quickly. It’s time to build off of the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and draft an updated law that will take these weapons off our streets.

-- Gun trafficking should be made a federal crime. Currently, prosecutions only happen through a law that prohibits selling guns without a federal license, which carries the same punishment as trafficking chicken or livestock. We must empower law enforcement to investigate and prosecute straw purchasers, gun traffickers, and their entire criminal networks.

In recent weeks, the American people have come together in a national outpouring of grief and sympathy for the families of victims slain in the mass shooting in Newtown. We share in that grief, but will not let it substitute for action. We look forward to working with you to enact these common-sense measures to reduce gun violence. Should you or your staff have questions or need additional information, please visit our website at www.faithsagainstgunviolence.org or contact our National Coordinator, Vincent DeMarco, by email at demarco@mdinitiative.org or by phone at 410-591-9162.

Find this letter, and the complete list of the faith leaders who have signed it, at www.faithsagainstgunviolence.org .

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