Bishop Chip StokesAs a young boy, I went to camp where marksmanship was a daily activity. We shot 22s and worked to earn NRA qualification badges. In high school, I participated in JROTC where, again, marksmanship was a regular activity. I have owned a handgun and rifle. Though not a hunter, I have occasionally enjoyed target shooting. The problem is, as I have gotten older, I have become profoundly aware that where there are more guns, there are more gun deaths. It is simple math. The numbers don’t lie.

It’s not that I’m against guns per se, but I am for common sense. There are about 30,000 gun deaths per year in the United States. We lead the world’s developed countries in gun deaths, by a lot! No other developed country even comes close. In two years, more people die from gunshot wounds in this country than there are names on the wall of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington.

As always happens when gun tragedies occur, like the recent shooting in Marysville, Washington, the rallying cry goes out, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people!” That’s true enough. Through its policies and failures, however, society can aid and abet the criminals, and statistics demonstrate that compared to other nations with similar demographics, that is precisely what our society does.[1]  This happens despite the fact that polls indicate the vast majority of Americans — Republicans, Democrats, even gun-owners themselves — are overwhelmingly in favor of common sense laws such as universal background checks.[2]  Something is wrong.  More troubling, we know what that something is. It is the undue and immoral influence gun manufacturers and the gun lobby exert on our elected leadership.

As one group of researchers observe in an essay titled Newtown Mass Shooting and the Disconnect with Political Action:

“In the gun policy arena, interest groups in favor of strengthening gun laws – like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence – have historically been outfunded by the pro-gun NRA, which receives significant funding from gun manufacturers and is commonly acknowledged as one of the most powerful interest groups in the United States…The NRA exerts direct political power over members of Congress by grading them based on their gun policy votes and by funding their (or their opponents) campaigns.”[3]

This strong influence of the NRA is exerted despite the fact that their membership represents only 2% of the United States population![4]

As a bishop, as a Christian, as an American, I cannot ignore the numbers:  30,000 Americans killed by guns each year. I have buried fathers and husbands– men who committed suicide with guns. I have ministered to mothers of young men who have been killed by guns in the streets of our cities in gang violence. Guns and gun violence are an epidemic in this country. This epidemic cannot be ignored and the issue should not be controlled by gun manufacturers and gun lobbyists who hold elected political leaders hostage to their threats and campaign contributions. Groups opposing the gun manufacturers and gun lobbyists such as Bishops United Against Gun Violence, must continue to work together so that the political will of the vast majority of Americans is given legislative expression by our politicians. Universal background checks and other common sense laws must be enacted. As the prophet Amos so poignantly cried out, let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

–The Rt. Rev. Chip Stokes, Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey

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[1] See http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2012/jul/22/gun-homicides-ownership-world-list
[2] See Quinnipiac University Release Detail July 3, 2014 found at http://www.quinnipiac.edu/news-and-events/quinnipiac-university-poll/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2057
[3] McGinty, Emma E., Webster, Daneil W, Vernick, Jon S., Marry, Colleen L  “Public Opinion on Gun Polciy Follwing the Newtown Mass Shooting and the Disconnect with Political Action” – from Updated Evidence and Policy Developments on Reducing Gun Violence in America  – ed. Daniel W. Webster and Jon S. Vernick  Baltimore, Md:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2104) – Kindle Book location 682 – 689
[4] McGinty et al.