Gun Violence Prevention
The UULMNJ Gun Violence Prevention Task Force began shortly after the Newtown, Connecticut mass shooting. At that time, we believed that tragedy would mobilize public sentiment to propel our federal and state legislators to address our nation’s woeful record on gun violence. Although we have not seen the progress we would have liked on this issue, the need for the enactment of common sense gun regulations has never been clearer. Each year in this country, we have an average of eighty-eight people die by firearms in this country every day, a toll that includes 54 suicides[i]. We also continue to have mass shootings, with 33 mass shooting between 2006 and 2014, including seven in 2012 and three in the first five months of 2014. But numbers can only tell so much; behind the statistics are families torn apart by loss and injury. Their lives will never be the same.
We know that it is possible to reduce the level of gun violence in this country. Canada has one fourth the level of gun violence as the United States on a per capita basis because of better laws and mental health assistance (Huffington Post article). We also know that polling routinely shows that 80% to 90% of U.S. citizens want stronger background check laws, and that a surprising 74% of current or former National Rifle Association members agree with this stance. Despite the public support for better regulation of guns, our lawmakers seem to respond more to the financial and political clout of the gun manufacturers’ lobbyists. Between 2009 and 2012, gun rights groups outspent gun regulation supporters 25 to 1. The gun rights lobby pressured Congress in 1996 to pass a law prohibiting the Center for Disease Control (CDC) from researching gun violence as a public health problem. In March 2014, the lobby orchestrated the defeat of a qualified candidate for Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, because he stated that gun violence is a public health problem that needs to be addressed. We are well aware that our opposition on this issue is well financed and well organized but we cannot concede defeat.[i] gunpolicy.org
- Task Force Activities
In the months after the Newtown shootings, gun violence prevention activists around New Jersey went into high gear. Throughout the state, our congregational representatives collected hundreds of letters from congregants and community members. We attended and testified at several hearings in Trenton on behalf of 21 gun safety bills that were introduced into the legislature, including the centerpiece legislation proposed by Senator Stephen Sweeney that would expand background checks and require safety training for gun buyers. Ultimately Sen. Sweeney’s bill passed through the legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Christie.
On the federal level, several UULMNJ representatives visited their congressmen to urge them to co-sponsor a bill that would expand background checks at gun shows and for internet sales. This bill did not receive the 60 votes needed in the US Senate for passage. We will continue to seek out opportunities for expanded background checks, e.g. more funding for current background check system, with the expectation that building a deeper public commitment over time (too much time) will overcome the congressional deadlock.
Community education has also been an important activity of our UULMNJ Gun violence Prevention activists. These activities have occurred on the congregational level with the hard work and dedication of members of our task force. Some highlights have been:
- Morristown Unitarian Fellowship (MUF) sponsored a community-wide event featuring the documentary, “Living for 32”, about the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, with guest speaker, Colin Godard, a survivor of that shooting and the movie’s narrator. MUF has participated with other Morris County groups in anti-gun violence events, including a Valentine’s Day Vigil on the Morristown Green two months after Newtown.
- Summit Unitarian Church hosted a series of three educational events in the spring of 2014 to further awareness of the problems related to guns in our nation. These forums were broadcast to other UU congregations.
- Several congregations – Cherry Hill, Princeton, Montclair and Summit – held memorial commemorations of the one year anniversary of the Newtown shooting either on their own or as part of an interfaith community gathering.
- Several congregations – Cherry Hill, Newton, Monmouth County and Montclair – offered a showing of the documentary, “Shell-Shocked” about the devastation caused by gun violence in inner-city New Orleans. This video provided a springboard to discussion, including an inner city youth group in Camden, about the deadly interplay between desperation caused by poverty and accessibility of firearms.
As a result of these educational activities, some congregations have adopted congregational resolutions which take a public stand regarding the congregation’s commitment to work for greater safety from firearm violence in this country.
- Current Activities
Recognizing that our numbers as Unitarians Universalists are small, our UULMNJ gun violence prevention activities are generally informed by and in coordination with other groups, national or state based, which are also working on this issue. Among the groups we work closely with are: The Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence/Million Moms March, Moms’ Demand Action, Coalition for Peace Action/CeasefireNJ, and New Jersey Together/IAF.
Municipal Actions – Currently, one of the main campaigns joined by the UULMNJ Gun Violence Task Force is the New Jersey Together “Do Not Stand Idly By” campaign. This nationally conducted campaign is based on the recognition that 15% of firearms are purchased by municipal governments, thus providing a market force in favor of gun safety policies. In this campaign, UU’s are working with other religious and community groups to enlist their local mayors and police chiefs to sign a commitment statement requesting information on marketing practices from gun manufacturers. These more responsible practices being encouraged include investment in user recognition technology (“smart guns”) and cooperation with law enforcement in reducing trafficking of guns.
Legislative Impact – UU’s also continue to work on legislation at the state and federal level including working towards the passage of a bill to reduce gun magazine cartridges from 15 to 10 rounds. We also continue to monitor the federal legislative arena for potential openings to improve gun safety legislation, recognizing that 80% of crime guns used in New Jersey are transported in from states with more lax gun laws.
Our continuing priorities for gun legislation are:
- Extend background checks to include gun shows and the internet.
- Require certificate of firearms training (already in place for hunters) for new gun purchases.
- Strengthen federal and state gun trafficking laws.
- Make guns safer by preventing firing by unauthorized users (“smart” guns), limiting high capacity magazines, incorporating magazine safeties (no discharge with magazine removed), and providing safe storage devices and information at purchase.
ASK Campaign – Some congregations will be participating in the Brady Campaign’s ASK initiative which urges parents to ask if there are any accessible guns in homes where their children play.
Need for Social Change – Beyond legislation, we will work to understand and help change behaviors that perpetuate gun violence. We will work to gain an understanding of the environments and personal motivations that bring people to violence against themselves and others. We will provide our time and material resources to help individuals and organizations overcome these environments that breed gun violence and many other societal problems.
- How You Can Help
On a personal level, whether you are new to our gun violence prevention efforts or already active, we welcome your participation in this life affirming work. We need people in each UU congregation to help. You can contribute by coordinating presentations, staffing letter writing tables, and spreading the word to our members.
- Task Force Contact
For more information or to get involved with the work of this Task Force contact the Task Force Chair at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Materials and Resources
- Articles of Interest
- Policy Brief
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