Spiritual leaders called to unite against gun violence

Students and Staff being led out of Marjorie Stonemason Douglas High School location on Feb. 14. (Photo: ZUMA Press)

Last week’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that left 17 dead needs to convince elected officials that gun violence in this country must be seriously addressed, says a national church leader.

During a speaking visit in St. Paul, Bishop John Franklin White told the MSR, “If we don’t get a handle on the gun issue…we are going to lose a tremendous number of potential leaders in this country,” no matter the race, creed or color, adding, “If children aren’t safe in school, this speaks volumes on what this country is [now] about.” Bishop White is the presiding bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Fourth Episcopal District.

The Florida shooting is the sixth school shooting this year in this country, according to Education Week. The FBI also reported that there have been 135 U.S. mass shootings from 1966 to 2017.

White says of the February 14 incident, “Children must be a sacred trust. We must do all that we can to protect them.”

(L-R) Presiding Elder Stacey Smith, AME Church Bishop John F. White (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

What happened last week again brought to life the gun rights vs. gun reform debate in this country among politicians and others. Many gun reform advocates argue that the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) anti-gun reform lobbying efforts have virtually eliminated any meaningful state or federal gun control legislative proposals.

The Center for Responsive Politics reports that in 2017 the NRA spent nearly $5 million in lobbying and spent over $30 million in support of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. The group also contributed $22,400 in 2015-16 to six Minnesota U.S. congressmen’s campaigns, four of them Republicans – Stewart Mills ($9,900), Jason Lewis ($3,500), Erik Paulsen ($3,000) and Tom Emmer ($2,000) – along with Democrats Colin Peterson and Tim Walz ($2,000 each).

Twice, following mass shootings in Sandy Hook in 2012 and San Bernardino in 2015, the U.S. Senate rejected a bill to tighten background check requirements, the Center also noted.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said, after last week’s Florida shooting, that there shouldn’t be a rush to action, “We have a system to prevent people who aren’t supposed to get guns from getting guns. And if there are gaps there, then we need to look at those gaps.”

When the bishop was asked if elected officials appear to be beholden to the NRA, he replied, “I think it’s time for us to be more realistic than political. Our leadership has to be sensitive to all people. We can’t be great if we are divided. We have become a divided nation.”

Last week’s shooting also troubled Saint Paul Minneapolis District Presiding Elder Rev. Stacey Smith. She admitted to the MSR, “I find myself, once again, as a mother, outraged about what has taken place.”

Smith, who is also pastor of St. James AME Church in St. Paul, said, “As a mother, I have a child who goes to high school. I pray every day for her when she goes out of the house that she is safe. We shouldn’t have to do that in this day and age… We shouldn’t have to pray that nothing happens to our children, that they come back the same way we sent them out.

“As a pastor, I am concerned about our nation,” Smith continued. “As a presiding elder, I want people to wake up. I want people to get involved. I want people to stand up and shout to the roof that they must all stop. I want our churches to stand up and speak truth to power about our gun issue in our nation, about the mental health issue in our nation.”

White said that the time has come for non-political action. “I think it’s time for religious people to call this nation together in prayer. What we saw last week says something to us that we have lost the spirituality that we need. It is time for the president to call this nation’s religious people to prayer, and to dialogue on how we can make this country be the country for all people regardless of race, creed and color.”

“I am asking that the leadership of this country call the spiritual leaders together,” said White, to help solve the country’s many issues.


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.