Gun Violence and My Church: My GA221 Testimony in Committee 9

On Monday, at our denominational General Assembly, the various committees had the opportunity to hear testimony from individuals about the decisions they faced. Because of my location and the concerns in my local congregation, I stood before the Social Justice Committee (#9) to speak about an overture which would move our denomination into active engagement in seeking legislation and providing pastoral care on behalf of victims of gun violence. The Presbyterian News Service reported that among other things, the Assembly’s action calls for:

  • formation of support, healing and advocacy groups for those who have experienced gun violence in their families;
  • opposition to legislation that exempts gun manufacturers and marketers from legal liability and/or financial accountability for the medical and security costs of predictable gun misuse and availability to criminals, the unstable, and the self-destructive;
  • opposition to “stand your ground” and other legislation that may entitle gun owners to shoot before taking alternative measures (such as relying on law enforcement and/or other de-escalation techniques) in perceived defense of persons or property;
  • encouraging church sessions and PC(USA) entities that own property to declare their particular premises and gatherings to be gun-free zones;
  • raising the age for handgun ownership to 21;
  • supporting legislation to ban semiautomatic assault weapons, armor-piercing handgun ammunition and .50-caliber rifles; and
  • advocacy in support of state and federal legislation to regulate ammunition.

Here is my testimony:

My name is Debra Avery. I’m the pastor of one of many First churches – mine is a smallish congregation in Oakland, CA.

I’m here because on too many Sundays somebody will share a prayer in worship for a neighbor who has been a victim of a shooting. I’m here because one of my necessary daily routines is to google Oakland shootings.

I’m here because Since I arrived on Friday, five people under the age of 35 have been shot in my city. One of the shootings about 12 blocks from my church.

I’m here because these children have been shot and killed:
A 15 year old high school girl,
an 8 year old girl playing in her front yard,
a 3-year-old boy AND his mother waiting for a bus,
a 2-year-old boy just watching TV with his mother.
All killed with semiautomatic handguns.

In May alone, in East Oakland, there were 151 shooting incidents. And though many of those incidents were victimless, the community itself is the victim of traumatic stress as parents and grandparents wonder if their child will be next. Our young people are dying. And I want my church to speak powerfully into that pain.

So many here can cite these kinds of statistics. And that might make you feel so overwhelmed that whatever the PCUSA might do is pointless…that our voice is too small…or that it’s too political…too isolated to a few urban centers…or that as a gun owner you just can’t support this work.

But for the people who worship at my church and who live in my city, what we say as a denomination matters. When my folks stand to talk about yet another shooting it will matter to them what you’ve done here this week. When they can’t sleep well because they hear gunshots in rapid succession, it will matter. I urge you to approve 9-01.

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