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Rev. Peter Laarman Headshot
Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater Headshot
Imam Jihad Turk Headshot

A Sacred Duty: Ending the Injustice of Gun Violence

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In a thoughtful Los Angeles Times op-ed published earlier this month, Michael Kinsley asked readers to consider which of the injustices we accept today will seem utterly and unthinkably outrageous to people living 20 years from now.

We are convinced that today's too-easy access to lethal weapons will be seen by future generations as one such outrageous injustice. This is because the absence of meaningful gun control in our time so clearly reflects the arrogant and disproportionate power of just one group -- the gun lobby -- riding roughshod over everyone else's right to a modicum of public safety.

The Aurora shootings were big news, understandably, but we should never forget that each new day brings an average of 80 gun deaths in the United States, most of these occurring in poor communities. Eight of those killed each day are children. If there were any other public health crisis that killed eight children a day we would most likely mobilize as a nation to stop it. Yet in the face of this daily pile-up of corpses (not to mention a vastly greater number of woundings and maimings) most Americans have grown resigned to suffering under the boot of the NRA. It doesn't have to be that way. Unjust power, especially unjust power with so much blood on its hands, can be challenged and overcome by a sufficiently outraged public. After all, it was an outraged public that finally curbed Big Tobacco's power and that put a big dent into drunk driving through years of concentrated effort. The gun lobby will say it has the Constitution on its side; so did slaveholders and defenders of Jim Crow in eras past. The public, far more than any given Supreme Court, ultimately decides what the Constitution means.

In the wake of the Aurora shootings, Senator Dianne Feinstein has called for the renewal of her signature assault weapons ban, the ban that expired in 2004 and was not renewed by Congress. We join her in that call. We also call for serious consideration of other legislation that will make a significant contribution to the reduction of gun violence. This is not a partisan issue: this is an American issue of basic justice and of basic human decency.

We religious leaders frequently and publicly lament the ongoing bloodshed in Afghanistan, Syria and other parts of the world. Each of the three Abrahamic traditions we represent has at its core the belief that every life is precious and sacred and that each person bears the image of God. But consider this startling fact: As of 2008, some 655,000 United States military personnel had lost their lives in all of this nation's foreign wars. Yet, during the course of the past 30 years there have been more than 1 million gun deaths in this country, most of them preventable, because we have not yet marshaled the public will to enact reasonable and sensible gun control legislation.

We implore leaders of all faith communities to speak out and encourage discussion of this crisis within their congregations and denominational groupings. We urge and invite each person of faith to contact their elected representatives at all levels of government to tell them they must now take action that will provide reasonable control over the accessibility of guns and ammunition. We call upon those officials themselves to begin to put their own moral convictions at the center of their decision making on this matter. Yes, the gun lobby will come after them -- and so what?

In the book of Deuteronomy, the assembled people hear these words: "I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live." We and our elected officials face this same choice today. We and they must act with courage and with the kind of resolute determination this crisis requires. If we don't, we can be sure our descendants will wonder how we could passively witness the blood-drenched injustice of so many lives snuffed out and shattered by gun violence when it was within our democratic power to stop it.

Rev. Peter Laarman, Imam Jihad Turk and Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater are founding members of Abrahamic Faiths Peacemaking Initiative (AFPI), a Southern California-based coalition created in 2004 that works to promote peace, justice and interreligious understanding.