National Religious Leaders Mobilize for Action

President Barack Obama signs executive orders on Jan. 16.

An ecumenical campaign to halt gun violence issued a call for background checks and the outlawing of “military-style assault weapons,” one day before President Obama began a renewed national effort to reduce gun violence. On Jan. 16, the president urged Congress to renew the assault weapons ban, to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines and to require background checks for all gun sales, adding that he would initiate a series of executive orders aimed at curtailing gun trafficking and gun violence.

“We can’t put this off any longer,” the president said. “Just last Thursday, as TV networks were covering one of [Vice President Joseph Biden’s] meetings on this topic, news broke of another school shooting, this one in California. In the month since 20 precious children and six brave adults were violently taken from us at Sandy Hook Elementary, more than 900 of our fellow Americans have reportedly died at the end of a gun—900 in the past month. And every day we wait, that number will keep growing.”

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It was a tone of urgency that echoed the concerns of a message to the president and Congress in January from Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence. “In light of the tragedy in Newtown—and in Aurora, Tucson, Fort Hood, Virginia Tech, Columbine, Oak Creek and so many more—we know that no more time can be wasted,” the group wrote. “Gun violence is taking an unacceptable toll on our society, in mass killings and in the constant day-to-day of senseless death. While we continue to pray for the families and friends of those who died, we must also support our prayers with action.

“We should do everything possible to keep guns out of the hands of people who may harm themselves or others. We should not allow firepower to kill large numbers of people in seconds anywhere in our civil society. And we should ensure that law enforcement has the tools it needs to stop the virtually unrestrained trafficking of guns.”

The letter was signed by 47 national religious leaders representing over 80 million Americans from a number of different faith traditions, including United Methodists, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, the Islamic Society of North America, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and dozens more. Prominent Catholic signatories included Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., Chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; the Rev. Larry Snyder, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities USA; John Edmunds, S.T., president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men; and Carol Keehan, D.C., president and C.E.O. of the Catholic Health Association.

Commenting on Faiths United’s letter to Congress at a press conference on Jan. 15, Sister Keehan said, “As Catholics, we believe there is a moral imperative to build and maintain safe communities. Part of that means making substantive efforts to address and prevent gun violence, including common-sense measures like banning assault weapons and requiring universal background checks.”

Jim Winkler, chair of Faiths United, quickly endorsed the president’s proposals. He said the plan “will do much to keep these weapons of mass destruction out of the wrong hands and prevent future tragedies like we saw in Newtown, Conn.” “We believe Congress has a moral imperative to enact the life-saving measures” included in the White House proposals, said a statement by the group.

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