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Sermon : On Why Guns Must Go

<i> Frederick H. Borsch is bishop of the six-county Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. </i>

On April 21, David John Falconer, a 40-year-old choirmaster at St. James Episcopal Church and School in Hancock Park, was held up and shot to death at a convenience store on his way home from work--just after this piece appeared in the diocesan newspaper.

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Fourteen-year-old boy kills mom. I heard that news on the radio and could see tomorrow’s headline. Or will it even make the headlines? The tragedies are now so frequent.

In this case, the boy was waving around a handgun he was told was unloaded because the magazine had been removed. But there was still a bullet in the chamber. The gun went off. A mother is dead. A boy’s life is ruined. A family is devastated.

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It happens over and over again: handgun crimes, accident, the angry grabbing of a gun in a family dispute, suicides. Three young boys are killed in Pasadena on Halloween when they were mistaken for gang members. Six are killed in an unemployment office, 13 in a post office, others in a law office, on a train, in a fast-food restaurant, in a school yard. More and more people are afraid to go out at night.

Guns give a sense of power. They can kill at a distance. One can kill people anonymously--without even touching them. There can’t be drive-by knifings or strangulations yet there are hundreds of drive-by shootings.

We still weep over the tragedy and loss of life in Vietnam. Yet in less than 18 months there are more gun deaths in this country--in our towns and streets and homes--than all the deaths of U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War.

The economic costs to society are enormous. It is estimated that each gun death or injury costs us more than $300,000. Total costs are at least $20 billion a year.

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But that’s only part of it. If one adds up all the police, private security and other costs, the costs are surely more than $100 billion to protect ourselves from people with guns. So let’s put more of these people into prison for much longer periods. Fine. But reckon that this costs more than $25,000 per person per year. (It would be cheaper to send them to a top-rated college!)

Many of us have heard the arguments against gun control over and again. It is said by some to be a matter of principle. The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms, they claim. Yet it has been shown over and over again that the Second Amendment was only concerned with the right of the states to be free from federal interference.

What of the constitutional rights of the rest of us not to be afraid when we pull our car up to a stop sign or withdraw money from ATMs or knock on a neighbor’s door?

The Bible tells us “Thou shalt not kill.” The commandment especially means not to murder and certainly can be interpreted to mean not to allow murders that could be prevented. While some murders may be deterred by the widespread ownership of guns, many more result from the fact that there are now more than 200 million firearms in the United States. And that’s not counting weapons bought in the last few months by people reacting to changes in handgun laws. As a society, we are responsible and accountable to God for so many tragic deaths.

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Some voices of despair will say it is too late, that there are already too many guns. But we’ve got to start somewhere, and even beginning efforts would go a long way toward getting handguns and assault weapons out of the hands of teen-agers and out of our schools.

It would be cheap at the price to buy up a lot of guns. No doubt there would be some kind of black market. But let’s make it a black market. Let’s make such guns much more expensive. And let’s see if we cannot at least approach the success of other civilized countries where there are fewer guns.

Congress has passed a ban on combat-style assault weapons to be included in a comprehensive crime bill. But we need to continue to write our political representatives. People of faith are the largest grass-roots organization in the world.


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