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Jun 29, 2015 | Carol E. Barnwell

Bishops and Deputies March Against Gun Violence

Nearly 1000 people marched with Bishops United Against Gun Violence June 28 at General Convention in Salt Lake City. Setting off from the Salt Palace after hearing Utah Bishop Scott Hayashi speak of his personal experience as a gunshot survivor, marchers streamed for more than a block behind the vested bishops. The gathering was intended to urge people of faith to seek common ground in efforts to curtail gun violence.

 

“The debate over gun violence in our country has become polarized, but it need not be that way,” Bishop Mark Beckwith of Newark and a co-convener, said in a press briefing. “There is broad agreement among people who own guns and people who don’t that universal background checks and other common sense measure save lives while protecting the right of law-abiding citizens to bear arms. We want to focus the attention of our church and the broader public on these common sense reforms, and muster the political will to see them enacted.”

 

Eugene Sutton, Bishop of Maryland, told marchers Sunday morning that they had gathered to find common ground in a nation that has become known for its divisions. He called the death of thousands of people from gun violence an “unholy trinity of the sins of poverty, racism and violence” and encouraged marchers to “break the cycle and claim another trinity.”

 

Hyashi recounted the emotional cost to his family after he was shot point blank in the abdomen and spent two months in the hospital previous to attending seminary. “The toll it takes on families is what we do not see,” he said, “Each one of us would say, ‘Don’t let it happen again,’ and day after day after day it happens. It hurts my heart deeply.”

 

Marchers neared Pioneer Park to a drumbeat played by House of Deputies chaplain, the Rev. Lester Mackenzie. Once there, they heard from the Rev. Gayle Fischer-Stewart, a retired police officer from Washington D. C. who advocated for change in training officers. Marchers also heard from Carolyn Tuft who was severely injured eight years ago by a gunman in a Salt Lake City mall. Her daughter Kirsten died of gunshot wounds sustained in the same attack.

 

Tuft said she was concerned she had been given only three minutes to speak when she realized it was the same amount of time it took to park her car and walk to the card shop with her daughter before the shooting took place and her daughter was dead. Tuft lives with 132 shotgun pellets in her body, suffers from lead poisoning. She said she lost her youngest child, her business and hasn’t had a day without pain since the shootings. “I’m here for Kirsten because she has no voice … it’s time to get involved … it didn’t affect me until it affected me …” Tuft said the issue was not there to get rid of guns but to keep them from the wrong hands.

 

Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry closed the event telling those gathered with an emotional challenge to face the “unholy trinity” with a “holy trinity.”

 

"We are here because that unholy trinity threatens the life of us all … there is another trinity … a holy trinity … and that is where we will find the common ground … Black lives matter because ALL lives matter,” he said.  

 

Beckwith convenes Bishops United with Bishops Ian Douglas of Connecticut and Eugene Sutton of Maryland. The group formed after mass shootings at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.

 

Bishops United supports:

  • Expanding the federal background checks system to cover gun shows, internet and commercial sales
  • Making gun trafficking a federal crime
  • Encouraging the development of “smart gun” technology to reduce accidental shootings—especially among children
  • Requiring that guns be stored safely
  • Improving access to mental healthcare for all Americans

 

Bishops United Against Gun Violence is an ad hoc group of nearly 60 Episcopal bishops who have come together to explore means of reducing the appalling levels of gun violence in our society, and to advocate for policies and legislation that save lives. Bishops United works against gun violence by forming relationships and coalitions with interfaith colleagues, fellow advocates, and families whose lives have been touched by gun violence; giving voice to voiceless gun violence victims through public liturgy, advocacy, and prayer; and supporting each another in efforts to end gun violence in local communities.

 

See videos of the event here, here or here.

 

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