Written Testimony of Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of Interfaith Alliance
The Senate Committee on the Judiciary,
for the Hearing Record on “What Should America Do About Gun Violence?”
January 30, 2013
As a Baptist minister, a patriotic American and the President of Interfaith Alliance, I submit this testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “What Should America Do About Gun Violence?” A national, non-partisan organization, Interfaith Alliance celebrates religious freedom and is dedicated to protecting faith and freedom with members nationwide who belong to 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition.
Interfaith Alliance, an organization that focuses on religious freedom and on uniting diverse voices to challenge extremism, is engaging in the initiative to prevent gun violence because our deeply divided nation could experience a modicum of healing by finding common ground on which legislation could be structured to make our nation a safer and healthier place. The support for immediate action to end gun violence coming from religious leaders from diverse religious traditions is thrilling to me. It’s also indicative to the moral value that all religions place on protecting all people, especially children. As members of this distinguished committee well know, the reforms necessary to prevent gun violence cut across numerous issues that must be addressed—from the impact of concealed-carry laws on houses of worship to anti-bullying measures—all of which affect all our nation’s citizens, including worshipers in churches, synagogues, mosques, and gurdwaras, as well as children in schools.
For years now, I have been an outspoken opponent of legislation that would permit concealed firearms to be carried in houses of worship in states such as my home state of Louisiana, also the home of the congregation in which I serve. This is a congregation that I have led to support a policy of no guns in our worship center despite a civil law passed to the contrary. Our houses of worship should be places where people find comfort and solace, not where they fear for their lives. Amidst consideration of policies such as prohibiting concealed-carry of firearms, as well as a renewed assault weapons ban and universal background checks, I hope this Committee and Congress as a whole will not lose sight of policies which can prevent individuals from seeking dangerous weapons in the first place—namely, improved mental health services and anti-bullying initiatives. However, these policies cannot be a substitute for policies related to the ownership of weapons. We need both stricter gun laws and government-based initiatives to deal with mental health issues and bullying. Let me assure you that many of us who lead houses of worship are already hard at work on mental health matters and anti-bullying tactics.
Whatever our disagreements, be they substantive policy arguments, misguided bigotry, or petty misunderstandings, we as a nation need to be done forever with the thought that guns, that killing, settles anything. Rather than disrespecting people because they hold ideas with which we disagree and turning on them with violence, we must find our way back to civility. And guns should not be readily available to those who cannot embrace civility. Otherwise, as a nation, we will lose both our democracy and our moral compass. What then?
The year 2012 will forever stand out as a particularly tragic year for gun violence in America: a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado; a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin; an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. And then there are the countless other victims whose deaths did not draw national media attention. I offered commentary on the memorial ceremonies from two of these tragedies on the set of a national television broadcast. I felt the pain I saw on the faces of the people. I hurt with those who could not stop weeping or those who were two emotionally frozen to cry. These tragedies do not just come and go as life moves on; for many, life is never the same after one of these events. As a nation, surely it is time for us to act in a manner that prohibits us from arriving at the end of 2013 only to see the trail of violence extended.
More often than not, when we find ourselves faced with unimaginable tragedy, we struggle against the feeling of helplessness—but presently we are in a situation in which to grieve for those whose lives have been lost to gun violence is to imagine what we can do to stop needless grieving, needless deaths in the future. With the ancient Hebrew prophet, I find myself repeatedly asking, “How long, O God, how long?” What will it take to stop these needless deaths?
Interfaith Alliance is a network of people of diverse faiths and beliefs from across the country working together to build a resilient democracy and fulfill America’s promise of religious freedom and civil rights not just for some, but for all. We mobilize powerful coalitions to challenge Christian nationalism and religious extremism, while fostering a better understanding of the healthy boundaries between religion and government. We advocate at all levels of government for an equitable and just America where the freedoms of belief and religious practice are protected, and where all persons are treated with dignity and have the opportunity to thrive. For more information visit interfaithalliance.org.