While many Chicagoans were out at their favorite pub on St. Patrick's Day, I was at a Jewish Temple with nearly 500 Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, and some non-religious people, all eager to learn what we can do together to push for accountability on gun violence. The meeting was hosted by United Power for Action and Justice, of which a number of churches in Oak Park and River Forest are members, including my parish, Ascension Catholic Church. The meeting was attended by a number of elected officials including Governor Quinn, Senate President Cullerton, and Oak Park's President David Pope.
The meeting included testimony from DiAne Boese, a member of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Oak Park. She shared how as a young child she was accidentally shot in the back of the head by a friend who thought the gun he had was a toy squirt gun. "I've spent an entire lifetime dealing with the physical and emotional trauma of this accident. No matter whose hands guns end up in — whether a 3-year-old or someone out to do harm, the consequences can be enormous for everyone affected," DiAne told the gathering. When audience members were asked to raise their hand if they personally knew someone harmed or killed by a gun, it was hard to see whose hands were not raised.
"This isn't just a problem," Boese said. "This is a crisis, and it cries out for creative and effective solutions."
The meeting included announcing United Power's support for a number of state and federal measures aimed at addressing the sale of illegal guns, including a Senate Bill sponsored by Illinois' very own senators Kirk and Durbin. S.B. 54, titled Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013, would make it a federal crime to traffic firearms, with violators facing 15-25 years in prison depending on the severity.
But one promising piece of United Power's campaign is attempting to bring gun manufacturers to the table to collaboratively seek solutions.
"We need to get them to become part of the solution rather than continue to be part of the problem. To do that, we need leverage," stated Greg Pierce, a leader with United Power. Pierce explained that this leverage can come from the federal, state, and local governments that are the largest purchasers of firearms in the nation. We will be asking manufacturers to commit to a "Help Us Curb Gun Violence Pledge" that will include: helping to curb gun violence by supporting community-based efforts; working with authorities to prevent guns from getting into the hands of those who seek to do violence; develop new ways to track weapons and ammunition used in crimes; and help rein in pro-gun groups and their excessive opposition to reasonable efforts to curb gun violence.
The attendees made commitments to go back to their institutions to educate and organize. Incidentally, at a recent candidate forum hosted by Ascension Catholic Church, village president candidates Anan Abu-Taleb and John Hedges committed to meeting with United Power to discuss what Oak Park could do. United Power is prepared for the long-haul if necessary.
As people of faith, we will continue our mantra, which began on March 17, taken from Leviticus 19:16 — "Do not stand idly by while your neighbors' blood is being shed. Only I am the Lord of Life."
A good place to start is checking out the following videos: