With rapid-fire news headlines reporting the latest mass shootings in places such as Colorado Springs and San Bernardino, alongside news of school lock-downs and street shootings closer to home, a state of cognitive dissonance seems to have set in among us, as urgency comes up against complacency: "Something must be done; nothing can be done" is the loop many of us hear in our heads.
"As much as gun violence is currently in the news, there’s still a way in which folks feel disconnected from it as an issue," said the Rev. Liz Steinhauser of St. Stephen's Church in Boston and a lead organizer of the diocese's B-PEACE antiviolence campaign, now in its third year.
"It was different this year," she said of the Dec. 9 Boston vigil for gun violence victims attended by a contingent of about 25 B-PEACE participants. The vigil has been organized annually by an interfaith coalition since the Newtown, Conn., school shootings in 2012. "Last year we maybe felt a little more inspired toward action--like the grief that turns to anger that turns to action--and I think this year we left sad. One person reflected that that’s sort of a sign of the times, the aftermath of Paris happening, and San Bernardino happening, Colorado Springs happening."
Still, wherever action on behalf of others can be mustered, there's hope to be found, according to organizers in the Diocese of Massachusetts who are encouraging ongoing local participation in gun safety advocacy. It's the Christian way, they say.
"The cascading episodes of gun violence in America threaten to render us hopeless. But Christians are ever a people of hope and compassion. So we do not lose heart, and we may not rest unresponsive," Bishop Alan M. Gates replied when asked where to look for hope.
"Among all the moral imperatives of the Bible, perhaps none is more clear than God's expectation that we should be responsive to the suffering of others. This is implicit in Jesus' second great commandment, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' It is altogether explicit in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
"As 2015 nears its close our nation has seen 12,648 deaths by gun violence, and another 25,590 injuries," Gates said, citing tallies from the not-for-profit Gun Violence Archive. "If response to human suffering is our mandate, then striving to reduce gun violence is surely our communal task and responsibility. Root causes need to be assessed. But meanwhile we have the immediate, escalating, symptomatic crisis at hand: too many guns in the hands of those who should never have them," he said.
In response, diocesan B-PEACE leaders are organizing local involvement in a national campaign called Do Not Stand Idly By, and Gates joins them in urging local participation.
Do Not Stand Idly By is a campaign of the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation (Metro IAF), a Washington, D.C.-based network of civic and faith groups--including the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization--which organize and undertake social action projects that they believe will strengthen local communities. This particular campaign takes its name from Leviticus 19: "Do not stand idly by while your neighbor's blood is shed."
Metro IAF estimates that tax dollars pay for about 40 percent of the guns in the U.S. through military and law enforcement purchases. The main premise of Do Not Stand Idly By is that, by organizing and speaking out, concerned citizens can leverage this public-sector purchasing power to encourage gun manufacturers to insist on responsible sales practices for all their dealers and to invest in "smart gun" technology to create safer guns.
The campaign aims to successfully make the case to gun makers that they can benefit by tapping into growing marketplace demand for gun safety measures without impinging on the rights of lawful gun owners.
"I think that in the same way that there are myriad reasons why gun violence happens, whether it’s ideology, or mental illness, or rage, or accident, there have to be myriad solutions," Steinhauser said. "We need to stay focused on pushing for reasonable federal regulations--this cannot be solved by state legislation alone, because guns just come across borders--but an additional strategy is to go directly to gun manufacturers, as a group of consumers and taxpayers, to shift the market to safer products," she said.
B-PEACE organizers will offer a local training for those who want to learn more about the Do Not Stand Idly By campaign on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016, from 2 to 5 p.m., at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul (138 Tremont Street) in Boston.
Steinhauser said the training is for anyone who is curious about potentially taking action. "You don’t have to decide before you come. You come to find out more about the campaign and to see if there are ways that you or your congregation might like to get involved on a local level," she said.
Questions about the training are welcome and can be e-mailed to B-PEACE organizers at email@example.com.
Getting at root causes of gun violence, especially as it affects young people, is a B-PEACE mandate. Other actions that B-PEACE is championing in the year ahead include campaigning for summer jobs for teens and encouraging partnerships between churches and underresourced public schools. Planning is underway for a Feb. 19-20, 2016, "All Our Children" regional conference at the Barbara C. Harris Camp and Conference Center in Greenfield, N.H., for those who are interested in starting a school-parish partnership as well as those who are already involved one.
"No doubt a host of various approaches and efforts will be necessary," Gates said of ending gun violence. "I urge your participation."
Learn more about B-PEACE here and sign up to receive B-PEACE e-mail updates here.
--Tracy J. Sukraw