Eastern Washington Legislative Conference 2019
Despite division over guns, common ground is faiths' teaching not to kill
At a workshop on gun safety at the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference, Sr. Judy Byron, OP, program director of the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center (IPJC) in Seattle and director of the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, addressed the obvious polarization on gun safety.
"Pope Francis says we should approach people of differing opinions with neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict, but with a culture of encounter and dialogue as the way to peace," she said.
"While we have a crisis of gun violence, most want to save lives and find solutions," Judy said.
"For most of its history, the U.S. has been a rural nation using guns for protection, securing food and connecting generations as parents taught children safe gun use," she said. "In contrast, few use guns today for hunting. Just 4.4 percent of Americans are hunters. Most live in suburbs and use guns for protection and sports."
The division is that some see guns related to tradition, family and history, but others connect them with death, fear and destruction.
"We have the second amendment granting the right to bear firearms. We also have the Declaration of Independence, guaranteeing the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," Judy said. "How do we bring these together? Given that people will have guns, how do we keep people safe?"
Common ground is that Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths say not to kill, to be compassionate, to love God and neighbors, to be peacemakers, Judy said.
Gun violence may have been down seven percent in 2018 from 2017, according to the Gun Violence Archive, but 14,712 people died, and mass shootings have grown worse since 1991, to the point that school shootings have become "routine," said Judy, who taught school until 1990 and "never worried about guns."
Judy then described efforts to challenge guns through the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment. Using shareholder advocacy, the alliance brought shareholder resolutions to gun manufacturers Sturm, Ruger & Co. and American Outdoor Brands, and to a gun retailer, Dick's Sporting Goods.
"We wrote asking how they monitor violent events when their weapons are used, how to make safer weapons and how such events risk their reputation," Judy said.
Receiving no response to letters, they filed shareholder resolutions. After the shooting Feb. 14, 2018, that killed 17 at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the CEO of Dicks said he was struggling with how guns they sold were used. They had not sold the weapon the shooter used, but had sold him another gun.
"Even though they followed the law, they had sold a gun to someone who should not have had one," Judy said.
Dick's stopped selling assault weapons, raised the age for gun purchasers to 21, hired a lobbyist and committed to sell safe guns. They took a hit. Their stocks and revenue went down, but the CEO said he would do the same again.
The other companies did not respond, but 69 percent supported a resolution for Sturm to do something and 52 percent for Outdoor Brands to act. Even large investors voted for the resolution, she said.
Judy imagines that it may be possible to develop safer guns.
"IPJC's goal is to promote gun safety, eliminate gun violence, and pass sensible gun laws and mental health reform," she said."We also need to look at our culture of violence with video games and other media."
Judy said Parkland students have helped break through political paralysis about guns with marches for life and voter registration. It reminds her that young people led Vietnam War protests and the civil rights movement.
A Pew Family Trust survey found more common ground than most think: 67 percent want stricter laws on gun sales, 97 percent support universal background checks, and 89 percent want to keep people with mental illness from buying guns, she said.
Currently, the U.S. Senate is considering an assault weapon ban and a concealed carry reciprocity act. The House is considering universal background checks.
In the fall, Washington voters passed I-1639, which is in courts. It established enhanced background checks, raised the age to buy a semiautomatic rifle from 18 to 21 and required firearms training and a 10-day waiting period before taking possession of a weapon.
Among 14 firearms bills introduced in the 2019 State Legislature were bills addressing undetectable plastic guns printed on 3-D printers, high capacity magazines, removal of firearms when there is domestic violence and concealed pistol training.
At recent hearings on the bills, she observed fear: People who want to own guns for protection and sport fear they are losing the right to own guns. Others fear the loss of lives from violence.
Judy summarized the Jesuit world view, "God exists in all, the person who thinks like me and the person who doesn't. Meaningful dialogue takes a long time and recognition that we all have shortcomings. Fear is the opposite of love."
She urges people to have conversations about gun safety wherever they live, including in their faith communities.
For information, call 206-223-1138, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ipjc.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, March, 2019