Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Another World is Possible: Combating Gun Violence

This past Saturday I attended a prayer vigil coordinated and led by the Simply Way of Philadelphia. The event was so meaningful and emotional, that I wanted to share my thoughts and observations about it.

Gun violence is plaguing urban cities. In very recent years, on average, a homicide a day was happening in the city of Philadelphia. About two weeks ago, a young man, 19, was gunned down on the street that the Simple Way is located. “At about midnight we heard the shots ring out. My friend ran to the door and I heard him yell, “Shane (Claiborne), a kid has been shot, come down.” As we looked down the street we could see a young man staggering as he walked down our block. Then his knees gave out and he fell to the ground. We called for an ambulance, and ran outside to be with the boy. My friend talked to him tenderly, looking into his eyes as they struggled to stay alert. We could see the wounds in his chest, torn by bullets. I grabbed his hand and held it as we prayed… and as we hoped. The ambulance came and drove him off. The next morning we heard that 19-year old Papito died that night from the gunshot wounds, on February 5, 2010. Papito was the fourth shooting in the last few months within walking distance from our house (Simple Way).”

You have to start asking yourself, what types of solutions can Followers of Christ play a role in to combat violence, and promote nonviolence. Certainly Simple Way’s presence in Kensington is one. Incarnational ministry is arguably the most effective method of ministry to combat urban evil and injustice. Another way is making public and acknowledging suffering and death within these contexts. And that was what this prayer vigil was about. The gun shop the vigil was done in front of is called “The Shooter Shop”. “It appears the Shooter Shop has long been known to both law enforcers and criminals as a prime source of illegal guns to the street market in Pennsylvania and other states. According to an analysis of ATF data from 1969 to 2000, the Shooter Shop was among the 120 top gun stores in the country in terms of guns it sold that were eventually recovered from crime (Note: The Tiahrt Amendment to ATF appropriations blocks public access to more recent data). ATF calls such info a likely indicator of a gun store being a source of gun trafficking. Traffickers know which gun dealers will look the other way when a straw buyer seeks to make a bulk buy of handguns, so they frequent those stores. The Shooter Shop is in the portion of Philly gun dealers whose guns are consistently recovered from crime.”

I don’t know what I was thinking as I arrived at the event. For some reason, I pictured a small group gathered on a street corner praying, crying, singing, etc. Certainly this part of the equation there…but it was only half of the equation. Let me explain. My rough estimates is that there were about 100 like-minded individuals there for the prayer vigil. However, there were about 20 or so protesting our presence that were there also. This certainly caused a little bit of a scene. There were 3 police vans filled with cops, police on the streets, reporters, people filming the event, etc. all present. It was this I was na├»ve about. I am not sure what I was thinking, I was living in ignorance in this moment. Of course people would not like what we were doing, what we stood for. Every time we began to pray or sing, the counter-protestors, all brandishing their American flags broke out into, “God Bless America.” We were met with a bunch of other slander, but no need to restate those words here. Words can’t describe the contrast, but it was very real. The thought kept coming to my mind that I also had when I heard Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh’s comments on Haiti: I just felt bad and hurt for them. I felt so much pain that they chose to be malicious and tried to be hurtful towards us. While they were yelling at us, I silently prayed for them. This was definitely my Spirit interceding, as my flesh battled (but thankfully lost) to feel anger towards them. One of our fellow participants said (paraphrasing), “I think if they actually dialogued with us, they would see we have a lot more in common than they think.” This is very true. We weren’t there to dispute the “right to bear arms”, like many alleged. The purpose was in fact to have the store owner sign a Code of Conduct (http://www.heedinggodscall.org/content/code-conduct ) , a ten- point covenant created by a national association of Mayors committed to decreasing violence on the streets, not to stop selling arms period.

Unfortunately, the gun shop owner did not sign this covenant on this day. But I feel we were doing what God had called us to do at that time, and to do it for Papito and the hundreds of others who are victims of violent crime.

One such law we all are pursuing in Pennsylvania would limit the number of guns to “One Handgun a Month”. Part of the problem is that there are no limitations to how many guns folks can buy which is why the end up being resold on the streets by “straw purchasers.” We are not even trying to stop the “right to bear arms”, we’re just saying maybe one handgun a month is enough. And for those of us who are Christians, Jesus sure didn’t have a much to say about the right to bear arms but had a heck of a lot to say about loving our enemies… so we hope Christians of conscience can help lead this important struggle for peace.

It’s another piece of the puzzle to create a better world. It’s not the only, or whole solution…but it’s certainly a piece. Come, Dream with me: Another world is possible.