WASHINGTON – A coalition of 47 religious groups Tuesday demanded action on gun control, calling a lack of responsible regulation “morally mistaken and religiously repugnant.”
The group, Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, met with reporters at the United Methodist Building near Capitol Hill. The organization released a letter to Congress outlining gun control legislation that it supports. Religious leaders in attendance insisted that their goals were not just recommendations—they are promises to Congress that Faiths United will insist that gun control legislation is enacted into law.
“This will happen,” Vincent Demarco, Faiths United’s director, emphasized. “We will succeed.”
The group made the letter public on the eve of President Barack Obama’s announcement of his gun control plans. Vice President Joe Biden handed the president his recommendations Monday after nearly a week of policy discussion.
Faiths United said it respected responsible gun ownership and licensed hunters. The clergy and lay people present called for universal background checks, a ban on high capacity ammo and also certain semi-automatic weapons, and stronger federal prosecution of gun traffickers.
Rachel Laser, deputy director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said that religious groups nationwide are planning a congressional call-in day Feb. 4. This Interfaith Call to Prevent Gun Violence is meant to mobilize lawmakers on reforms.
Faiths United named two main obstacles to reforming firearms laws: first, the powerful gun lobby led by the National Rifle Association, and second, congressional gridlock.
The Rev. Jim Wallis, president and CEO the national Christian organization Sojourners, criticized NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre’s argument that, “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
Wallis calls that reasoning “morally mistaken and religiously repugnant,” saying that religion recognizes that no one person is simply good or bad.
“We have both good and bad in us,” he said. He argued that easy firearms access becomes dangerous when otherwise good people become “angry or furious… or deranged or confused or lost,” and commit terrible acts of violence.
He also condemned legislative inaction on the hill.
“Congress is set up to prevent good things from happening,” he said. “That’s a political fact.”
Faiths United formed on Martin Luther King Day in 2011, with 24 interfaith groups. Two years later, membership has doubled and the congregations involved represent many Americans. Much discussion Tuesday surrounded December’s Connecticut shootings.
Sayyid M. Syeed, a director of interfaith relations in the Islamic Society of North America, spoke about the nation’s heartbreak in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown.
“The Quran tells us that if you kill one person… it is as if you are killing the entire mankind,” he said.
It was no coincidence that the event was held on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Speakers at the event referred back to the civil rights leader’s message as an inspiration for their activism. The Rev. J. Herbert Nelson said if King were alive today, reducing gun violence would be one of his top priorities.
“Some say it’s impossible,” Demarco said of the push for tougher laws. But, he said, Newtown was like the dogs attacking freedom fighters in the early 1960s Birmingham, finally revealing the horror of racism to the nation. This is the moment for gun control, he said, and it’s only a matter of time.