Responding to COVID-19 and gun violence
from Bishops United Against Gun Violence:
Witnessing to the God of Life: A Letter to the Episcopal Church
Dear People of God in the Episcopal Church,
In Revelation 21:4, we learn that in the new heaven, God will wipe every tear from our eyes. In her novel “Gilead,” Marilynne Robinson tells us that “it takes nothing from the loveliness of the verse to say that is exactly what will be required.” Today God’s people are weeping over the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and gun violence, and we are called once again to respond.
The spiraling rate at which Americans are buying firearms during the pandemic is driving a deadly spike in gun violence. According to researchers from the University of California, Davis and the University of California Firearm Violence Research Center, Americans bought 2.1 million more firearms in March through May 2020 than over the same period in previous years. That was just a prelude to June, when Americans bought 2.4 million firearms, a 145 percent increase from June 2019.
This gun buying surge has, not surprisingly, begat a surge in gun violence. Authors of the University of California paper estimated that 776 additional injuries or deaths occurred across the nation between March and May. And according to Everytown for Gun Safety, the Gun Violence Archive’s records indicate that 345 more people died of gun shots between March and May than during the same period in previous years.
Like so much else about the COVID-19 crisis, the surge in gun violence has hit communities of color hardest.
In New York City, twice as many people were shot this June than last June, and police say 97 percent of those victims were people of color. In Chicago, shootings this June were 76 percent higher than last, and concentrated heavily in communities of color. In Louisville, where protests have proliferated after Breonna Taylor was shot in her own home by the police in March, non-fatal shootings have doubled over the same period last year, gun deaths have risen by 40 percent, and between January and May, almost 75 percent of homicide victims were Black. And in June, as people took to the streets across the country in peaceful protests against racism, gun buying surged highest in states with the highest levels of overt racism.
Too many people, researchers tell us, are motivated to buy guns by anxiety and fear.
As Christians, we know that Jesus tells us not to be afraid. And as advocates, we know that having a gun in the home in the midst of a pandemic does little to guarantee safety. Abused women are five times more likely to be killed if their abuser has a firearm. Children are at significantly greater risk playing in a home with an unsecured gun. The guns Americans are buying today will be wreaking havoc on our streets and in our homes long after the pandemic has passed.
The kind of sensible gun reforms that Bishops United Against Gun Violence supports could help change this situation, but they have been thwarted by politicians of both parties who offer only thoughts and prayers in the wake of mass shootings rather than meaningful reforms.
We urge you to change this situation by voting for candidates who support sensible gun reforms and ensuring that all citizens have the opportunity to vote. Our partners at Brady: United to Prevent Gun Violence and March for Our Lives have put together an excellent toolkit highlighting the essential link between voting rights and our country’s ability to enact popular and sensible gun safety legislation. Racist and discriminatory voter suppression is rampant in our country, and the communities most affected by gun violence — namely Black and Latinx communities — face the greatest barriers.
The campaign seeks to mobilize gun violence prevention activists to lobby for expanding voting access across four broad categories:
- Vote-by-mail and absentee voting
- Online and same-day voter registration
- Early voting
- Restoring voting rights to people with felony convictions
We urge you to become active in this campaign in the coming months, to make sure that you, your family and friends are registered to vote, and to have a back-up voting plan should the pandemic make voting in person risky. We also ask that you contact your U. S. Senators if they are not up for reelection this year and let them know you would like them to pass the sensible gun reform bills currently stalled in that chamber.
To ensure that Episcopalians are informed voters on gun violence issues, soon after Labor Day, we plan to gather partners from gun violence prevention organizations to help us learn more about how we can continue working and voting against the pandemic gun buying surge and its deadly aftermath. We invite you to follow the Episcopalians Against Gun Violence Facebook page for details and registration coming soon.
Since our inception, the advocacy of Bishops United Against Gun Violence has been rooted in gospel values and sustained by communal prayer. While we cannot gather in person, we know that many of you have become accustomed to worshiping online. Therefore, in September, we are planning to host on our Facebook page a churchwide Service of Lamentation for all those whose lives have been touched by gun violence. Please follow the page for details coming soon. Together we will weep for those we have lost, grieve the fear that leads us astray, and prepare to witness at the ballot box and in the halls of Congress to the God of life who overcomes death, now and forevermore.
Bishops United Against Gun Violence
Learn more about this group at https://bishopsagainstgunviolence.org/