Op-Ed

A year after Charleston, too many guns, not enough grace

Sen. Clementa Pinckney’s wife Jennifer Pinckney, center, and her daughters, Eliana, left, and Malana follow his casket into the South Carolina Statehouse. Pinckney was one of those killed in a mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last June.
Sen. Clementa Pinckney’s wife Jennifer Pinckney, center, and her daughters, Eliana, left, and Malana follow his casket into the South Carolina Statehouse. Pinckney was one of those killed in a mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last June. AP

We have mourned so much and too often in recent years for the victims of gun violence. We have wept as a nation for students shot in their classrooms, office workers at a Christmas party and, almost exactly a year ago, for nine church members who were studying the Bible together at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. All were beloved children of God lost to unimaginable hate.

For every death that rises to our attention through the breadth of the destruction, there are many more victims who may be memorialized only in individual communities. We are less likely to hear about the accidental shooting of a child who comes across an unsecured weapon, the act of domestic violence or the suicide.

Such losses should also horrify us, though. To be followers of the Prince of Peace, we must seek kinder ways to be in community. How did we get to a place where individuals feel the need to arm themselves on playgrounds, in the grocery store and even sitting in our pews? When did our love for each other shift to this frantic need to protect ourselves from one another? Why did guns become an idol worshiped by so many?

As people of faith, we recognize that we are a society appropriately governed by laws, and we respect the rights granted in the Second Amendment. We have no desire to interfere with hunters and target shooters or with any firearm owner who properly acquires and stores a weapon. But our society has lost sight of what that requires: comprehensive, common sense regulations that moderate the potential for unthinkable destruction with reasonable restraint.

We share with many other religious traditions a commitment to a higher power who calls on us to create a world marked by mercy, grace and justice. As Christians, we also follow one who extended miracles of healing and resurrection while calling us to love one another. The loosely monitored proliferation of guns does not reinforce the messages of our holy texts. Indeed, in many cases, it puts us at odds with them. Both the abundance of firearms and the ease with which they are accessed make us a society where we end up harming one another even as we believe we are protecting ourselves. In “standing our ground,” we can actually fuel the very violence that seeds our insecurity.

Sometimes it feels like we need one of those miracles to shift us from the path we now find ourselves on. Certainly, it will take the voices and the will of advocates to remember those lost and to faithfully work toward a safer and more peaceful society. Next weekend, June 17 through 19, we hope other people of faith will join us in their congregations and houses of worship for a Stand Up Sabbath. During our time together, we will remember the nine lives lost last year at Mother Emanuel.

But to truly honor them and the 33,000 others killed by gun violence each year, we also hope to renew our ongoing commitment to those common sense laws that will bring us closer to the beloved community God calls us to build together.

The Right Reverend William Phillips DeVeaux Sr. is the presiding prelate of the Second Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The Rev. Steve Hickle is president of the N.C. Council of Churches.

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