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MCC responds to gun violence

Gabe Schlabach
June 25, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S. and MCC East Coast are working to curb gun violence in response to calls from MCC workers and church leaders in cities with high rates of gun violence, including New York City, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.

Sandra Perez, an MCC local service worker in New York City, experienced the tragedy of gun violence five years ago. Her first grandson, an easy-going and well-liked 24-year-old, was murdered after leaving a neighborhood store in Brooklyn. Three bystanders also were shot and injured, though they all survived.

MCC service workers in Washington, D.C., also live with the evidence of gun violence around them. During one night in late May of 2008, three men with no criminal histories were gunned down three blocks from the house where MCC volunteers live. Investigators found 35 semiautomatic bullet casings at the scene of the crime. In response to the triple homicide and a slew of other gun homicides, police installed roadblocks and checkpoints in the neighborhood throughout the summer.

During a March 2009 MCC East Coast board meeting, Pastor Aldo Siahaan, a board member, sent a text message from a Philadelphia hospital apologizing that he could not attend the meeting. A young leader from his congregation had been shot four times while delivering pizza the night before.

Later in the board meeting, Fred Kauffman, MCC East Coast's program coordinator in Philadelphia, informed the board that a meeting scheduled that day with a Korean Presbyterian church elder was canceled because the elder’s father-in-law had been shot and killed.

Evaluating how MCC should respond to such incidents is fraught with potential cultural and political misunderstandings, as rural, urban and suburban gun usage and perspectives on gun laws vary widely, even among Mennonites, Brethren in Christ and other Anabaptist denominations.

To address these differences, MCC East Coast helped initiate a dialogue between a Mennonite church in Lancaster County and Mennonite and Brethren in Christ congregations in Philadelphia. Since November 2008, the group has met four times, including a public forum at the March Lancaster Mennonite Conference meeting. This dialogue has improved relationship and understanding between the two groups.

In January, staff from MCC U.S. Peace and Justice Ministries and MCC East Coast participated in the Heeding God’s Call Conference in Philadelphia, an event co-sponsored by the Church of the Brethren, Mennonite Church USA and the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Quakers). Participants focused on finding ways for the historic peace churches to address current problems of violence. The conference culminated in a prayer vigil and march supporting the "Mayors Against Illegal Guns" code of conduct that is designed to reduce illegal gun trafficking. In 2008, Wal-Mart, the largest gun seller in the United States, adopted this code of conduct.

To assist congregations wanting to address gun violence, the MCC U.S. Washington Office recently released a 16-page education and advocacy guide, Preventing Gun Violence. This resource includes statistics, a faith reflection, policy proposals and tips for contacting elected officials.  It also suggests solutions to gun violence that target the trafficking and illegal use of handguns while respecting the rights of hunters and sportsmen.

The guide can be ordered for free, plus shipping and handling, at mccstore.org or by calling (888) 563-4676. More information on advocacy is available from the MCC U.S. Washington Office at mcc.org/us/washington.