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NCC Head Affirms Council's Priority Work Against Gun Violence

August 1, 2000, NEW YORK CITY -- National Council of Churches General Secretary the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar today reiterated the Council’s support for several proposals to reduce access to guns, including waiting periods and background checks prior to purchase along with efforts to ban the sale of handguns and assault weapons.

"Because we are so committed to ending this scourge of violence, the National Council of Churches has made the issue of gun violence one of its top priorities and will focus significant educational and advocacy resources on this matter in the years to come," Dr. Edgar said.

Dr. Edgar made his statement at a news conference this afternoon in New York, joining other faith community leaders as they called America’s religious communities, the gun industry and our nation’s leaders to take responsible action to reduce gun violence. Together, they signed a statement, which called for American citizens to take action toward creating a safer nation.

"This is a new day," Dr. Edgar proclaimed. "It is not too late for us to stand up and say ‘No more guns, no more violence.’"

Today’s event was organized by Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the largest Jewish organization in North America. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the organization, noted the importance for religious leaders to take a stand toward the eradication of gun violence.

"Controlling guns is not only a political matter, it is a solemn religious obligation. America needs a religious voice, loud and strong, ringing with dignity, that will shatter the complacency of our lawmakers," he said.

Andrew Cuomo, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), was also among signatories of the statement. Cuomo noted HUD’s involvement with programs like "BuyBack America" which has bought back an estimated 17,000 guns, destroying most of them.

Cuomo suggested that the devastating epidemic of gun violence in America can be ended when citizens organize, mobilize, and become energized for change.

"Why is America in this situation when the correct path is so obvious?" questioned Cuomo. "The religious community has led movements to feed the hungry and house the homeless. It is now time to join the their moral call to denounce the inaction of gun manufacturers who refuse to accept responsibility for lives lost to gun violence."

Others on hand today included Sister Mary Rose McGready, D.C., Director of Covenant House, an international agency dedicated to the care and rehabilitation of street children, and the Reverend Herbert Daughtry, National Presiding Minister of the House of the Lord Churches. Signing the joint statement but not able to be present was the Reverend Joseph Fiorenza, Roman Catholic Bishop of Galveston Houston, Texas.

Also present today were members of the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY), the high school youth movement of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. The students announced their decision to make gun control their social action theme for the year, with 20,000 young people spending the year working for this cause.

Below is the full text of Dr. Edgar’s statement.

By the Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar, General Secretary
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
August 1, 2000

Last March, the National Council of Churches joined the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in an "Interfaith Call to End Gun Violence." We came together as religious leaders to call for common sense reform of the gun industry and for common sense gun legislation in Congress.

Since our call went out, there have been hopeful signs. Smith & Wesson signed a break-through gun safety agreement with the Clinton Administration and with state and local governments. Hundreds of thousands of women, men and children marched in Washington, D.C., and in communities across our nation for strict oversight of the gun industry and for responsible limits on gun access and use.

Tragically, gun safety legislation is still frozen in Congress. And the tragedy of gun violence continues. Guns remain readily available in every segment of the society, and the death and injury caused by their use is rampant.

More than 200 million guns are in circulation in the United States today. Every day in the United States, on average, gunfire takes the lives of 87 people, 12 of them children under age 20. Many more are injured.

Our faith traditions direct us to comfort widows and orphans. So as pastors, we struggle to comfort the heartbroken and traumatized families and friends of the victims of gun violence. Our faith traditions also instruct us to oppose injustice. So we continue to stand up against the epidemic of gun violence in our nation.

Congress constantly discusses the issue but decides against taking substantive action, in the face of pressure from advocates for gun ownership and use. We are aware that new laws alone will not end the wave of gun violence sweeping the nation, but we are convinced that the number of shootings will be reduced by making it harder for individuals to purchase the kinds of guns which have no function except to injure and kill humans.

Because we are so committed to ending this scourge of violence, the National Council of Churches has made the issue of gun violence one of its top priorities and will focus significant educational and advocacy resources on this matter in the years to come.

The Clinton Administration and several leaders in Congress have proposed a variety of ways to reduce access to guns, such as waiting periods and background checks prior to the purchase of guns. We support these initiatives, as well as efforts to ban the sale of handguns and assault weapons.

These guns are the weapons of choice in the commission of crimes. They are also the instruments by which children accidentally shoot themselves and others. Adults use them to act out their aggressions in conflicts or disputes with friends, family, and strangers, simply because these weapons are so available. If guns were not readily at hand, people in conditions of stress might be motivated to find a less violent way to resolve their conflicts.

It is increasingly evident that guns, rather than providing the security people seek and rightfully deserve, only add further to our sense of unease and danger. The escalation of gun violence compels us to call for an end to the manufacture and easy distribution of such instruments of destruction. A faith that expresses compassion for all God’s children is opposed to violence in all forms.


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