This voice of lament from a hotel clerk in Richmond, Virginia, this cry from the heart, if amplified, might provide the moral weight required to defeat a horrible bill pending in the Virginia state legislature. HB1180, which passed the Senate and is now under consideration by the House of Delegates, would repeal the current prohibition on bringing firearms into houses of worship by non-law enforcers. Yes. Guns would be allowed in places of worship. This legislature is also in the process of defeating gun bills that would save lives, included among them background checks, child access prevention, prohibiting weapon enhancement, taking guns away from those convicted of domestic violence and more.
Representing Lewinsville Faith in Action, I was asked to share my thoughts on HB1180 at a press conference organized by Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence. In part, this is what I said. (But it would have been different, had I first spoken with the Richmond hotel clerk). “In January alone, 1170 people in America were killed by guns; twice that number were wounded; there were 7 school shootings; 22 incidents where four or more people were shot; a 15-year old boy walked into his Kentucky high school, spraying bullets into 16 students, killing two. One month.
“Last year Baltimore recorded 343 gun deaths. One city. One. In 2012, Canada recorded 172 firearm related homicides.
“We have become numb: Newtown, Aurora, San Bernardino, Orlando, Columbine, Charleston, Virginia Tech, Las Vegas, Southerland Springs. This litany now a normal part of our lives, our almost daily news. Our eyes glaze. We turn the page, switch the channel.
“But we stand in a prophetic tradition where we are required to speak with loud and clear voices about social injustice, about jarring the public out of its numbness, about spurring compassion and action. I’ve just cited some statistics. But how many times have we heard these statistics, these litanies that render us numb? How do we shatter this numbness? That’s the question, for the constant litany of facts, a few of which I’ve just read, don’t seem to do it.
“But this noxious, dangerous, stunningly irresponsible bill, HB1180, just might. Guns in sacred, safe places. If this bill passes, then let’s be clear about what we’re saying. We’re saying this: ‘Fellow countrymen and women, there are no safe places. None: not in schools, businesses, restaurants, movie theaters, in colleges, and now, yes now in our faith communities. And it’s deeper. It says at root, you’re on your own. Arm yourselves. We cannot, will not protect you. You friend, now live in a society ruled by fear, not love, by suspicion, not sustenance.’”
How to persuade? Perhaps by pointing to success in other states: States that have enacted even modest gun laws have recorded fewer gun deaths. California, with the strongest gun laws in the nation, reduced firearm mortality rates an astonishing 56% between 1993 and 2010. Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy points out that his state’s gun measures have produced a 40% reduction in gun crimes.
Perhaps it’s reminding us that by the time a “good guy with a gun” unsheathes his weapon, the determined shooter has mowed down dozens in Las Vegas or school children and teachers in Newtown.
Would quoting scripture help, such as this moving citation from I Kings 6:7? “When the house [of Solomon] was built, it was with stone prepared at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron (my emphasis) was heard in the temple.”
Would citing the costs of gun violence help? For 20 years I served as President and CEO of the National Crime Prevention Council. There I witnessed the horrible frequency and multiple effects of gun violence: a death; a family torn apart; a community huddled in fear; skyrocketing hospital, enforcement and correctional costs, costs diverted from schools, parks and infrastructure repair.
It hasn’t so far.
Maybe it’s not just policy, statistics, biblical quotes. Perhaps it is a citizen voice needing the widest possible amplification, a voice I heard so clearly, so poignantly when making my hotel reservation for a trip to Richmond, Virginia, where I would work to help defeat this bill. While negotiating my hotel room with the clerk, I shared the reason for my trip. A very personal conversation ensued. She said, “Mr. Calhoun, Sunday is my day! That’s where I’m the most happy, my happiest place. I praise. I am with friends. I am at peace. I can’t be looking over my shoulder. They can’t take away my peace from me, can they?”
They’re prepared to take away her peace and the peace of millions of worshippers in Virginia.
I will speak out, as I have on so many occasions. This time I will lead with her voice.