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Supporting Our Bishops on Gun Violence

The continuing occurrence of mass shootings have troubled all of us. I am very proud of the bishops in the Episcopal Church for their leadership in addressing this problem. My wife and I are half-year residents of Venice, Florida, on the Gulf Coast, and of Maryville, Tennessee, in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. I am delighted that both our bishops are part of the over-100-member Bishops Against Gun Violence. The bishops have pledged to work for implementing the stated policies of the church, that is, those passed by the General Convention. The policy to work for, and support, is congressional legislation that would require that all guns be registered (like our cars) and that assault-style weapons be banned from sale.

There has been a long train of mass shootings. The bishops’ organization has written a litany for use in churches that mentions all the mass shootings in recent years. This moving litany is updated as each new shooting takes place.

In recent months we can immediately recall the shooting in the Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York, and in Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. In one case, the target was Black people, in the other schoolchildren, but in both cases a lone gunman used an assault-style weapon that had been designed for military use in warfare. In that store and that school, that sort of weapon allowed the gunmen to do what the manufacturers intended: to kill as many people as possible in a short time.

After the mass killings in Buffalo and Uvalde, a cry went up for laws to ban such weapons. But, as we now know, Congress failed to act (again). In an equally divided Congress, very little got done to address the real problems, though a few matters were addressed. In Tennessee, for example, Governor Bill Lee pressed for, and got, legislation enhancing school security and making mental health access more available (both laudable things); at the same time, he was steadfast in support of “the rights of law-abiding citizens” to own any weapons they choose to buy.

But assault-style weapons do not just kill, like a handgun or a shotgun might. The bullets tear through bodies with an awesome lethality. I will not forget the scene at the White House briefing room when actor Matthew McConaughey held up a pair of green sneakers. McConaughey was visibly angry and upset, because, as he said, these sneakers were the only way to identify one of the murdered students. Her upper body and face had been just about obliterated. One cannot imagine what her parents must think and feel. We have to ask if an ordinary “law-abiding citizen” needs to own a weapon that can kill like that. Indeed, some of the leaders of our military services agree that such weapons should be only in the hands of trained soldiers and used only in warfare.

Shortly after Uvalde, a convention of the National Rifle Association was addressed by several politicians, some in office, and some out of office. The mantra was repeated that if the government banned assault weapons it would be the first step on the way to banning all other weapons. That is untrue. No one is calling for banning all guns.

Finally, I hope that Episcopalians will become aware of the stated policy of our national church, and supported by our bishops, to register all guns and ban the sale of assault weapons. Please note that even here, the church is not advocating confiscating the assault weapons people already own but stopping future sales, which is a very moderate response.

Let us remember the family in Uvalde whose little girl went to school one day, and was shot beyond all recognition. On the matter of assault weapons, let us ask “What would Jesus do?” Our bishops have a good answer.

Ronald Wells is professor of history, emeritus, at Calvin University, Michigan.


  1. The gun owners I know are (for the most part) reasonable people. They would support laws that would protect people.

    The problem is that the political side of the question has become unhinged.

    So an emotional appeal like this (that I agree with) will fall flat and accomplishes nothing. The work that needs to be done is the work of coming up with a plan that will accomplish a reduction in gun violence.

    I propose as a starting point that we work to get data. The current state of data in this (and many other debates) is appalling. The gun lobby seems to have done a good job in shutting don study of gun violence. that would seem to be a great place to start.

    • Charlie,
      Thanks for engaging my piece. I’m sorry to hear you think it won’t accomplish much. I had thought that if readers of our blog were aware of TEC’s policy, and our bishops support for it, it might motivate some action.

      I agree that politics can be unhinged, as you say. In the two states where I reside, Tennessee and Florida, the politicians seems to want to have more guns available and make it easier for people to carry them out in public. If you, or anyone, knows how to put the hinges back on those government officials, please let all of us know.

      Finally, about data: we have a lot of data, tons in fact; headstones are very heavy and they are appearing in too many cemetaries. How many more school kids need to be killed, or shoppers mowed down by assault rifes do we need before action is taken?

      I know this is emotional, but even moreso for the parents who need to bury their murdered children, whose only crime was going to school.

      Best wishes,
      Ron Wells


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