"The gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby."
On Friday, December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 students and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. He had already killed his mother. He subsequently killed himself.
The Sandy Hook shootings came after a seemingly endless spate of mass shootings in America--school shootings at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech, the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at a voter forum in Arizona, a theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, a Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. They also occurred in a year when urban gun violence in Chicago had reached startling proportions. Enough, we said, is enough.
On the following Sunday, many American clergy stepped into their pulpits and called for a national movement to combat gun violence in our country. At Washington National Cathedral I made a similar plea, noting the challenges but also the faith resources at our disposal. Referring obliquely to the crucifixion at the heart of Christian response to suffering, I observed, "The gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby."
As December 14, 2014 approaches, many might question the power of the cross lobby in confronting the gun lobby. In the weeks immediately after the Newtown shootings, many faith leaders and gun violence prevention activists came together around a four-fold consensual legislative agenda: a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, stiffer penalties for those convicted of gun trafficking, background checks for all gun purchases, greater attention to problems of community mental health. After an initial flurry of activity, resistance from the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun interest groups rose up to stop the consensual gun violence agenda in its tracks. Six months after Newtown, the prospects for federal legislation were essentially over.
In the past two years, there have been 95 additional school shootings. Another 60,000 Americans have died by gun violence. Despite federal inaction, the vast majority of Americans continue to favor gun violence prevention legislation similar to the agenda the cross lobby put forward two years ago.
What happened? Should we turn my earlier statement around? Is the cross lobby no match for the gun lobby?
Clearly, the lack of federal action frustrates all of us who feel that gun violence is an important theological and public health issue. Congregations around the nation have tirelessly worked, prayed, and organized, and they have at times found themselves overmatched by the gun lobby. Even before the 2014 midterm elections, the composition of Congress appeared massively misaligned with national preferences regarding gun legislation. Any impartial observer, therefore, would conclude that (at least on the federal level) the cross lobby had been outplayed. Score one for the gun lobby.
In our statehouses, however, the situation is vastly different. Across the country legislatures and governors are taking action. Several states have adopted laws removing access to firearms from domestic abusers. In September, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a Gun Violence Restraining Order bill into law. Last month, Washington voters approved a referendum requiring universal background checks on all gun sales. And just this week, a bipartisan group called American State Legislators for Gun Violence Prevention--comprised of more than 200 state legislators from all 50 states and Puerto Rico--announced both its formation and the adoption of a bold agenda for taking up in state legislatures the commonsense gun violence prevention work currently stalled on Capitol Hill.
Score several for the cross lobby.
It is painfully ironic that, in a week when hundreds of congregations around the nation are recommitting themselves to faithful action to prevent gun violence, thousands of Americans are in our streets protesting the shooting deaths of young African Americans by white citizens and officers: Michael Brown of Missouri; Tamir Rice of Ohio; Ezell Ford of California; Renisha McBride of Michigan; Trayvon Martin of Florida. We grieve over all gun deaths, whether in schools, in malls, or on the streets. As the cross lobby regroups and reorganizes to reduce the level of gun violence in America, we must broaden our work to address the historic prevalence of racial injustice in our common life. Black lives do matter.
"The gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby." There is so much progress. There is so much left to do. We owe it to the children of Newtown, the people of Aurora, the children of Chicago, to build on the successes of the recent weeks and months. We owe it to Michael, Tamir, Ezell, Renisha, and Trayvon to stand with all victims of gun violence, even gun violence done in the name of the law.
"The gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby." In the end, we will prevail in this struggle because love and justice always finally win over fear and hate. Let us commit ourselves, today, to stand where God calls us to stand: with and for those who suffer and die from the illegal and immoral use of firearms. There is no issue more important in our common life. There is no cause more precious to the heart of God.