Letter to the Editor – gun violence

(I wrote this letter to the editor of PennLive soon after the votes were cast for the legislation I mentioned in the letter. Since that time, there was a second shooting in the alley behind the church. This time the victim was a 15-year-old, who ended up in critical condition. How many more people need to be victims? )

Late at night on April 17, a human being was shot and killed in the alleyway behind the church that I serve here in Harrisburg.  This was a person who had a story, a life, and loved ones.  For our congregation, gun violence isn’t an abstract topic of debate which we can then put aside and go home and forget about – it impacts the lives of the congregation and our community.  Gun violence, like this, produces trauma and despair, when what is needed is robust shalom – a living peace that provides wholeness, and a beloved community that cares for one another.  

In America, we seem to never have a shortage of funds or willpower to protect the ways of violence, to wrap those efforts in the flag, and to claim these ways are the guarantors of freedom and peace.  Instead, they are the lies of an ideology of violence that is holding us hostage at gun point and costing us lives. How many more people need to be sacrificed on this altar before we see the false god for what it is?  

How many more chances do we need to give the means of violence before we see that it never works?  Why are some law makers so willing to pull out all the stops to protect weapons of violence, yet only willing to offer thoughts and prayers for people?  We deserve better.  

Recently the PA House of Representatives failed to pass two bills that would have prevented further deaths – HB 2206 and 335.  These aren’t bills that take away anyone’s right to own a weapon.  There’s nothing in them is controversial at all.  HB 2206 works to prevent firearm trafficking through mandated use of the Electronic Record of Sale System.  The Record of Sale System is already in use.  This bill would make the system more effective in helping stop the spread of trafficked guns – the weapons that are most commonly used in committing a crime.  Why wouldn’t we want to do this?  

HB 335 bans devices that turn a simple handgun into a fully automatic weapon.  Machine guns are already illegal.  This isn’t anything new.  It costs about $20 to buy a “glock switch” online.  And the results are devasting.   Why wouldn’t we want to ban such devices?  

These bills failed by one vote.  How many lives will be lost because of one vote?

That’s a question we need to be asking lawmakers who voted no on these bills – Representatives like Thomas Mehaffie.  Was it worth it to vote no?  

Why does it seem that we can’t do anything about this gun-related violence – especially on legislation that enhances already existing laws?  What makes refusing to reduce gun violence so special that some law makers refuse to vote for bills like HB 2206 and 335?  I don’t know. Maybe Rep. Mehaffie and others can tell us.  

Maybe Representatives who refuse to support legislation that would reduce gun-related deaths should go to the funerals of people who died from firearm homicide, look the families in the face, and tell those families why they voted no on efforts to reduce such violence – why a family’s deceased loved one wasn’t worth a yes vote.  

Peace isn’t a destination, rather, it is a way of living right now.  It offers a way to live which is far better than the reality that we experience today – a reality in which far too many of our neighbors and fellow citizens have their lives cut short.  Peace is how we heal as a nation and as community that has been traumatized by violence for far too long.  

We can do something about the violence that we encounter.  Throwing up our hands and saying “nothing can be done” leads us to despair and hopelessness.  It’s not a good option.  And we also need to recognize that there isn’t just one action that will solve all our problems either.  HB 2206 and 335 would have been a good start of moving us in the direction of peace and of saving lives.  I thank Representatives Patty Kim, Justin Fleming, and David Madsen for voting yes on these life-saving bills.  

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