By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
About 1,500 people lined up behind 79 bishops for an early Sunday-morning march along the streets of Salt Lake City in a rally against gun violence.
In speeches, prayers, and hymns, the Claiming Common Ground Against Gun Violence rally denounced a rash of gunshot deaths in the United States. Gunshot survivors, including Utah Bishop Scott Hayashi and mall-shooting victim Carolyn Tuft, shared their stories.
“I’m here to protect you from this horrible life,” said Carolyn Tuft, who lost her daughter in the 2007 Trolley Square Mall massacre and nearly died herself. She said pellets lodged in her kidney, spine, lung, and tissues have left her constantly battling lead poisoning, pain, and nausea.
“I’m always hearing people say: ‘If I would have had a gun, I would have stopped him,’” Tuft said. “I’m telling you right now: If I would have been armed with a gun, there’s nothing I could have done to change anything. The outcome would have been exactly the same. There was no time to react.”
The one-mile march and rally was organized by Bishops Against Gun Violence, an activist group that includes about 60 bishops of the Episcopal Church. The goal was to raise awareness and build common ground in lamenting lost life.
Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton spoke to the scale of the problem, citing the fact that 30,000 Americans die of gunshot wounds each year. One million incidents lead to emergency-room visits each year in the United States, he said.
“Surely all of us, no matter what our views are on specific tactics for ending this epidemic of violence, we come together to celebrate life and say: this must stop,” Bishop Sutton said.
The message hit close to home for some in the crowd. Randy Callender, rector of St. Philip’s Church in Annapolis, Maryland, has lost two cousins to gun violence. One of the perpetrators bought his gun on the Web, Callender said.
“We need to continue this, not only in Utah, but we need to take this all over,” Callender said. “We need walks all over, in all the cities, to let people know that we’re serious.”
Before the event, Bishop Hayashi said he hoped it would spark a public conversation transcending the polarizing politics that too often surround the issue. Speakers at Pioneer Park made clear, however, that some trust in legislative solutions more than others.
“We too, like the Pharisees, want to rely on the law,” said rally speaker the Rev. Gayle Stewart, a deacon at Calvary Church in northeast Washington, D.C., and a retired police officer in the city. “The Word encourages a change of heart. And it is going to take a change of the human heart, and not laws, to do something about gun violence.” The crowd applauded.
But Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas begged to differ.
“I’m here to witness to the fact that laws can change the circumstance on the ground,” the Bishop Douglas said. He said statutory changes have reduced gun violence in Connecticut, while changes loosening restrictions in Missouri have led to an increase in gun deaths. He said the difference is documented in a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
“We’re not here to limit access,” Douglas said. “We’re simply here to enact and advocate for sane gun legislation, specifically around purchasing of handguns and licensing. So I beg you, I beg you, to take action.”
Marchers barely talked as the crowd wound its way down Salt Lake City’s wide boulevards in temperatures topping 80 degrees at 7:30 a.m. Instead they sang: “Out of the deep, I call / Unto thee, O Lord / Consider well the sound / of my longing soul.”
The march drew curiosity from local residents who live in one of the most pro-gun states in the country. One heckler, who would identify himself only as Paul, shouted briefly at speakers at rally locations in the park and outside the Salt Palace Convention Center, where the Episcopal Church is holding its 78th General Convention.
“You’re not going to get rid of the second amendment,” Paul told TLC, referring to the Constitutional right to bear arms. “Guns are here to stay.”
Some marchers spoke to the Second Amendment directly. Philip Carr-Jones, rector of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Lebanon, New Jersey, marched in sunglasses, a black clerical shirt and a sandwich board that read: “Consider the 2nd … Commandment 1st! Take no idol.”
A few locals joined in. Jay and Susan Aldous of Salt Lake City had heard about the event and turned out to show support.
“Too many innocent lives are taken,” she said. “It’s not a way to resolve issues.” She said both approaches are needed — spiritual reform and legislative reform —to change a culture that too often uses violence in attempts to fix problems.
Photos by Asher Imtiaz