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Newtown clergy members urge passage of gun control

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A group of clergy from Newtown sent a letter to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday urging members to approve an assault weapons ban.

The letter was signed by the leaders of 11 churches in Newtown, where a gunman used a military-style rifle to kill 26 people, mostly children, inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. It advocates a ban on such weapons and high-capacity magazines. It also calls for universal background checks for gun buyers, an end to gun trafficking and the prosecution of people involved in straw purchases, in which guns are bought by people for other people who may not be entitled to them.

“To see the rising incidence of gun violence from Chicago to Newtown, Camden to Aurora, Detroit to Tucson — and how that violence particularly targets the young and the poor, especially in America’s urban communities — and yet to refuse to take the steps we know would reduce harm is a violation of religious values so severe that we are compelled to speak out,” the religious leaders wrote.

The Rev. Matthew Crebbin, pastor of the Newtown Congregational Church, said he doesn’t purport to speak for every member of his congregation but helped write the letter as a matter of personal conscience. He said the clergy members had put the letter online and were asking other religious leaders across the country to add their names to it.

“We want them to know that there is support for this among the faith community, not only the leadership, but the folks who are serving day to day and many of us ministering in communities that have been affected by gun violence,” he said.

Community activist organizations Groundswell and PICO said they had gathered more than 3,500 signatures by Monday evening.

Crebbin and the other leaders, in their letter, say they also believe that the larger underlying issue behind gun violence is spiritual and pledge to foster a “culture of peace to complement and serve as a foundation for any proposed gun legislation.”

“We draw from a wellspring of tradition that will spark off a spiritual awakening in America that will transform us into a culture of compassion, reconciliation and civility,” they write.

The committee is expected this week to consider several pieces of legislation, including an assault weapons ban authored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

President Barack Obama made bans on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines key parts of the gun curbs he proposed in January in response to the Connecticut school massacre, which ended when the gunman, who had killed his mother at home before going to the school, killed himself.

The cornerstone of Obama’s package is a call for universal background checks for gun buyers, some version of which seems to have a stronger chance of moving through Congress than Feinstein’s bill, which faces opposition from the National Rifle Association and many Republicans and wariness by moderate Democrats.



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