The rationale of an overture on gun violence prevention proposed for consideration by this summer’s General Assembly states that there are “two basic arguments for church involvement in the matter of gun violence: the scale of this on-going tragedy and the Biblical and theological bases for engagement by Presbyterians.”
Overture 038 from the Presbytery of Hudson River asks the 221 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to call on the denomination and its agencies to take several steps, including asking churches to “prominently display signs that prohibit carrying guns onto their property,” and lobbying against legislation that is “designed to permit and encourage the carrying of weapons in all areas of life.”
The overture asks that each church session and denominational entity “declare their particular premises and gatherings to be gun-free zones by voting to adopt the following (or similar) policy and recording it in their minutes: Individuals (other than active law enforcement officers) are prohibited from carrying guns onto this property; and to publicize this policy by prominently displaying appropriate signage …”
It also asks the assembly to direct the denomination’s Office of Public Witness to urge all Presbyterian leaders to:
- “to oppose legislation that exempts gun manufacturers and marketers from legal liability and/or financial accountability for the medical and security costs of predictable gun misuse and availability to criminals, the unstable, and the self-destructive,
- “to support the disclosure of funds spent by gun manufacturers on lobbying, campaign contributions, and other legislative strategies that serve to undermine the protection of U.S. citizens from the highest rates of gun violence in the world
- “to oppose ‘stand your ground’ and other legislation that may entitle gun owners to shoot before taking alternative measures (such as relying on law enforcement and/or other de-escalation techniques) in perceived defense of persons or property, and
“to oppose legislation designed to permit and encourage the carrying of weapons in all areas of life, including houses of worship, noting that those in possession of guns are four times more likely to experience gun violence”
Other recommendations in the overture include asking the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program to provide models for congregational or ecumenical forums “to explore the dynamics of gun violence in their areas,” and to encourage presbyteries and synods to develop educational programs.
“The scale of gun violence in the United States includes, annually, the deaths of at least 3,000 children (often under-reported) and 25,000 adults (with suicides under-reported), with more than 100,000 wounded, often seriously,” states the overture.
In speaking to the Biblical basis for the overture, the rationale says that “Christian opposition to gun violence begins with Jesus’ teaching and example: that we should love our neighbors, love our enemies; that all who take the sword will perish by the sword; that peacemakers are blessed and will be called children of God. These (and other) statements are echoed in the New Testament letters … The first letter of John challenges us ‘not (to) love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.’ We must struggle with how to implement the vision, a challenge that was taken up by John Calvin as well. At the very core of his theology was an understanding that the intentions of God should be implemented on earth.”
The PCUSA, the overture’s rationale states, “has been concerned about the frightening gun violence phenomenon, and has consistently spoken out about it for three decades, as have our sisters and brothers in virtually every other faith tradition. This overture expands upon the existing policy of the General Assembly by providing specific ways for individuals and congregations to have a voice and take action in confronting the gun violence crisis.”
If a second PCUSA presbytery concurs with the overture, then the 2014 assembly will consider the measure at its meeting June 14-21 in Detroit, Mich.
According to the Office of the General Assembly, “A Book of Order amendment that went into effect on July 7, 2013, states that overtures from presbyteries will require a concurrence from at least one other presbytery (see G-3.0302d) before being referred to the assembly.”
Reduce gun violence
A second overture declares that the PCUSA has “not responded strongly enough to the continuing number of killings and repent our failure to demand more of ourselves to ensure that adequate laws are passed to reduce gun violence.”
In Overture 007 Newark Presbytery asks the PCUSA to “take meaningful action to reduce gun violence,” and to work with federal, state and local legislators to pass legislation that will:
- “require licensing, registration and waiting periods to allow comprehensive background checks, and cooling-off periods;
- “close the ‘gun show loophole’ by requiring background checks for all gun buyers;
- “ban semiautomatic assault weapons, armor piercing handgun ammunition, and .50 caliber sniper rifles;
- “advocate for new technologies to aid law-enforcement agencies to trace crime guns and promote public safety;
- “raise the age for handgun ownership to the age of 21;
- “following the recommendation of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, support laws to ‘require judges and law enforcement to remove guns from situations of domestic violence, as well as from people whose adjudicated mental illness, drug use, or previous criminal record suggests the possibility of violence,’ and to increase police training in nonviolent proactive intervention.”
The overture cites a an action approved by the 219th General Assembly in 2010 that recommended “all PCUSA congregations take seriously the pervasive use of gun violence in our country and take various measures to educate our membership and our public officials.”