Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, and Sayyid Syeed(R) of the Islamic Society of North America, smile at each other after speaking during a press conference at the United Methodist Building January 15, 2013 in Washington, DC. The group of religious leader organized by Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence held the news conference to speak out against gun violence.
AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI
WASHINGTON â€” Dozens of the nationâ€™s faith leaders are ready to take on the gun lobby and have demanded that politicians take quick and concrete steps to stem gun violence.
At a Capitol Hill press conference Tuesday and in a letter to Congress, more than 45 clergy and heads of religious groups â€” representing the spectrum of U.S. religious life â€” petitioned lawmakers to reinstitute a ban on assault weapons, require background checks on all gun buyers, and make gun trafficking a federal crime.
Organized by Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, the signers said the slayings at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school last month had pushed them to redouble their efforts, and created an opportunity to beat back the gun lobby.
The Rev. Jim Wallis, the evangelical who heads the progressive Christian group Sojourners, took on Wayne LaPierre, the outspoken executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, directly. LaPierreâ€™s statement after Newtown that the â€œthe only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gunâ€ is â€œmorally mistakenâ€ and â€œreligiously repugnant,â€ Wallis said.
â€œThe world is not full of good and bad people. That is not what our scriptures teach us,â€ but that each individual is both good and bad, Wallis said.
â€œAnd when we are bad or isolated or angry or furious or vengeful or politically agitated or confused or lost or deranged or unhinged, and we have the ability to get and use weapons only designed to kill large numbers of people,â€ Wallis continued, â€œour society is in great danger.â€
The coalition is part of a larger movement, led by President Obama and some Democratic members of Congress, to tighten gun laws in the wake of the Newtown massacre and previous mass killings by lone gunmen in Aurora, Colo., Tucson, Ariz., and elsewhere in the past several years.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll published Monday, a month after the Newtown massacre, found that 52 percent of Americans said the horror of Newtown had made them more supportive of gun control.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a gun control bill Tuesday and other state legislatures are also considering stricter gun regulations.
Others who signed the letter include Carol Blythe, president of the Alliance of Baptists; Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association; Sayyid M. Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America;
Polls show that Americans generally favor the restrictions endorsed by the coalition even if their representatives in Congress may not, said Vincent DeMarco, national coordinator of Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence.
The Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II of the Presbyterian Church (USA)â€™s Washington office said people of faith must reframe the debate on gun control, and support â€œthose of us who would challenge the false choice between guns and freedom.â€