Gun violence: Loving our neighbors so they may flourish

So far this year the House of Representatives has made various efforts and held numerous hearings to address the United States’ unique gun violence problem.

The House Judiciary Committee recently advanced three gun violence prevention bills that would outlaw large capacity ammunition magazines, provide funding to states to enact Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO) and bar individuals convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime from owning a weapon. These bills will now be voted on by the entire House of Representatives, which approved a bill in February that would expand background checks. Conversations in the Senate are ongoing.

Often lost in the debates about gun policy is what communities are doing to stop the violence that torments them. But recently the House Judiciary Committee hosted a hearing focusing on community responses to gun violence, said to be the first such hearing.

Addressing gun violence should be multi-pronged, pairing action from Congress with responses from local communities who are often able to think outside of the box and find creative responses to gun violence.

One community response can be found in Chicago, which is investing $250,000 into a program called Grounds for Peace that converts 50 empty lots into gardens. The idea is to beautify blighted public spaces. Research shows that blight and gun violence often accompany each other. Chicago uses such beautifying projects to provide employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals.

Parents for Peace and Justice, an MCC Great Lakes partner organization that arose from tragedy, addresses gun violence by holding vigils at sites of gun deaths, hosting after-school sports programs and advocating for better gun violence legislation.

Jesus’ often quoted command, “love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:39) is being lived out by these communities as they work to reduce gun violence. They are loving their literal neighbors by striving to create safer and more beautiful spaces in which their communities can flourish. Jesus’ command challenges us to do likewise, to love our neighbors so they may flourish.

Your efforts can be multi-pronged as well. Take action by urging your members of Congress to support common-sense gun legislation and by supporting local organizations in communities that have been traumatized by gun violence.

Photo: Elizabeth Ramirez holds up a t-shirt that was made in her son Dee Jay’s memory. Elizabeth started an organization called Parents for Peace and Justice to help support other families who have lost children to gun violence in Chicago. MCC photo/Sarah Severns

John-Michael Cotignola-Pickens is the Criminal Justice Education & Advocacy Coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Story originally published on October 4, 2019. Reprinted with permission from Third Way Cafe.

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