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A Message on Gun Violence
from Harriett Jane Olson

Dear friends:

Despite the joy of so many of us being together at Assembly, these past several weeks have been filled with lament and sorrow. I seldom write to you directly about steps for action, but it feels to me like now might be the time to make an exception.

We have lost children and adults and family members to gun violence in recent weeks in mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas; Buffalo, New York; and most recently in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Of course, these precious individuals are not the first. Despite a long litany of mass shootings and the nearly 19,384 individual shooting deaths that occur across the country annually, our nation seems unable to generate the resolve to make a substantive response.

I want to suggest to you several things:

  1. I encourage you to make partnerships. At Assembly we talked about partnerships. Partner with statewide groups such as Dignity in Schools as an effective way to engage in this important work. Despite the gridlock at the national level, state work in this area can be very powerful.
  2. I also want to suggest that we know some things that we can contribute. From our work on Interrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline we know that the answer is not to put more law enforcement personnel or more weapons in schools. This is detrimental to young people, especially young people of color. Indeed, in this most recent horrific incident, the presence of trained persons with weapons was not effective to save lives.
  3. I plead with you to remember that while mental health care is a critical need across our country, there is no correlation between mental health needs and mass shootings. Please do not allow our yearning for action to be assuaged by setting up persons who need mental health care as villains. Rather, I urge you to insist on adequate funding for counselors and mental health services in schools and communities.

And please contact your senators and representatives, national and state, to let them know that common-sense regulations to reduce mass murder is something that needs their urgent attention.

I encourage you to work with organizations that have been working in this area for a long time and who have evidence of things that work. Now is not the time to wring our hands, as if we had no information about potential solutions. We know that raising the age at which it is possible to legally purchase and possess guns, conducting universal background checks, red flag laws, limiting access to assault weapons, and reducing the capacity of magazines for sale to the public have been effective.

We do know what to do. The truth is our leaders have demonstrated a lack of resolve to do it.

You can find the church’s position against the proliferation of violence here. Please let your voice be heard. We urgently need action on this, but we do not need to take just any action. We must insist that our leaders take action that is based on proven results. Together, we can do more.

Let us continue to pray for the families and communities of Tulsa, Uvalde, Buffalo, and those of the thousands of individuals whose lives have been lost to gun violence around the country. As an outward sign of solidarity, we ask you to consider wearing orange on Pentecost Sunday as part of the national campaign demanding a future free of gun violence. We join together to demand a future free from gun violence once and for all.

Harriett Jane Olson
General Secretary and CEO
United Women in Faith

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