In the very active interfaith communities throughout this country, hundreds of people of different world religious traditions have come together to promote peace, justice, to alleviate hunger or poverty or homelessness. In the delicate world of interfaith dialogue and engagement, rallying around such issues is usually “safe” because most people of whatever religious tradition can agree that peace is a noble aspiration, that justice for all citizens is something we can agree to as Americans in a democracy. Religious traditions the world over exhort their adherents in varying ways to care for the poor, the outcast, the marginalized, the hungry etc. So coming together to do a clothing drive or serve meals in a soup kitchen or collect food for families is a popular interfaith endeavor. Other issues have been harder for interfaith groups to embrace, often because their various religious traditions have different positions on particular controversial social issues and as an interfaith community they cannot, with integrity, come together. Abortion, birth control, and the rights of the LGBT community are examples of such issues. The events of this summer suggest that there is one pressing social issue that all faith groups should be able to rally around, and that issue is gun control.
In the past few months, we have been subjected relentlessly to the horrific consequences of our American reverence for the Second Amendment “right to bear arms.” Since the Columbine massacre in April of 1999 and the Virginia Tech shooting in April 2007, and the shooting in Tucson, Arizona in January 2011 that left Representative Gabby Giffords with ongoing impairment from a gunshot wound to the head while killing 6 people and wounding 13, we have become accustomed to having emergency drills in schools and colleges and intensive screening in airports, and high level security, including metal detectors at political gatherings. Now it would appear it is also risky to go to a movie or to worship on a Sunday morning or visit a popular tourist sight on a beautiful, sunny summer morning or work the night shift in a suburban grocery store. The summer of 2012 brought four more massacres at the hands of a gunmen who managed to acquire lethal weapons capable of killing large numbers of people in rapid succession. The Aurora Colorado movie shooting, the Oak Creek Wisconsin shooting at the Sikh Gurdwara the shooting just last week outside the Empire State Building in New York City, and the early morning shooting at a Pathmark in Old Bridge, New Jersey this morning were all done by people who had very different motives and distinctly unique mental health issues that led to the violent behavior. But whether the reason for a mass shooting is extremist pathology, or disgruntled misery, or simply insanity, one thing these shooters all had in common: easy access to handguns, assault weapons and ridiculously large amounts of ammunition making it easy and quick for them to murder large numbers of people. I believe it is time for the interfaith community to rally together to call for much stricter gun control laws in every state in the nation.
We have formidable opposition, to be sure. The NRA, one of the single most powerful lobbying groups in our country, spends literally millions of dollars a year preventing legislation from ever getting before Congress or state legislatures that would restrict the sale of guns and ammunition. Small, underfunded religious groups and interfaith community groups will be hard pressed to outspend the NRA. But the time has come for people of all faith traditions to stand up to the powerful lobbies in Washington and in our various state legislatures and insist that guns and ammunition become much more stringently regulated. We need an “Occupy” movement for gun control, a grass roots movement that will insist that lethal weapons not be readily available to anyone with an internet connection. It is simply unconscionable that in many places in this country it is easier to obtain assault weapons and thousands of rounds of deadly ammunition than it is to get a driver’s license. The trope “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” simply does not begin to address the reality that when mentally deranged or politically or religiously extremist socio-paths have access to weapons capable of blowing away scores of people in a matter of minutes, it is time to regulate the “people who kill people” by making it much more difficult for them to obtain deadly weapons.
All religious traditions teach that it is wrong for one human being to kill another. While there are various religious approaches to war and when and how it is justified, no religion that I know of condones murder and ruthless violence against the innocent. And that is what we unwittingly condone when we, as a society, refuse to properly regulate the availability of guns to civilians. I invite the interfaith community to join together to push for stricter gun control laws so that we don’t have to continue to come together at prayer vigils for the victims of senseless gun violence.