Declaring that the United States must end the "scourge" of gun-related violence which has brought a series of multiple killings in recent years, the US National Council of Churches (NCC) has come out in support of legislation in the US Congress aimed at limiting the ownership of guns.Expressing support for a new interfaith campaign for gun control, Robert Edgar, the NCC's new general secretary, said that because gun violence affected the lives of children—many of whom have been killed in the recent attacks—his agency had decided to make the issue one of its top advocacy and legislative priorities this year."We are aware that new laws alone will not end the wave of gun violence sweeping the nation," Edgar said at a news conference in Washington DC on 15 March, which was organized to announce the campaign, the Interfaith Call to End Gun Violence. "But we are convinced that the number of shootings will be reduced by making it harder for individuals to purchase the kinds of guns which have no function except to injure and kill humans."The US Congress in Washington is considering proposals that include waiting periods for the purchase of guns, along with mandatory background checks before purchases can be approved. The "Interfaith Call" supports these proposals, but goes further by supporting efforts to ban the sales of handguns and assault weapons.Guns and gun control have long been a volatile issue in the US. Supporters of the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA), the country's leading gun lobby, say that the US Constitution protects the right of citizens to bear arms. While the NRA has carried enormous political clout through the years, it is facing an increasingly uneasy public outraged by an epidemic of gun violence, particularly affecting children.In recent years, shootings at schools here have become all too common. Last month, for example, a 6-year-old boy in the state of Michigan killed a classmate with a handgun.In recent weeks, President Bill Clinton, a critic of the NRA and a supporter of the bills before Congress, has publicly argued with NRA officials about the gun-control legislation. The arguments have become so heated and personal that President Clinton's spokesman, Joe Lockhart, called on the NRA to end its "sick rhetoric." He was responding to several verbal attacks on Clinton by NRA vice president Wayne LaPierreEdgar told this week's press conference that guns were "readily available in every segment of the society, and the death and injury caused by their use is rampant.""More than 200 million guns are in circulation in the US today," he said. "Between one third and one half of all households own at least one. Every day in the US an average of 87 people, 12 of them children, die as a result of gun wounds, a figure which is rapidly approaching the rate of deaths through car accidents."Edgar, a former US Congressman from the state of Pennsylvania, criticized the US Congress for constantly talking about gun violence but deciding "against taking substantive action" in the face "of pressure from advocates for gun ownership and use."Edgar told Ecumenical News International (ENI) that the NCC's call for the banning of certain guns would not affect the right of hunters to own rifles. The call was aimed, he said, at banning the use of guns, such as assault weapons, for which the only purpose was to kill human beings.In light of the recent Michigan killing and other school shootings, and the polarization in Congress over the issue, it was time, Edgar said, "for a broad faith-based coalition to move in new directions. This is the time we in the faith community have to make a stand."He pointed out that interfaith appeal was supported by representatives of mainstream and evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic and Jewish groups."People are fed up," Edgar told ENI. "A majority of Americans believe stronger gun control legislation is needed, and the fact that some politicians and the NRA are setting the agenda has got to stop."Copyright © 2000 Ecumenical News International. Used with permission.
See Christianity Today's editorial on guns and gun control, " In Guns We Trust | Fear and idolatry are our real gun problem." The editorial ran in the October 4, 1999 issue of the print magazine.Edgar's statement and a background report on gun violence is available on the National Council of Churches' Web site.
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