UMs, others form new Gun Violence Coalition to foster peace, awareness

April 19 Lilies for Guns giveback event set

By Jessica Connor

COLUMBIA—Deeply concerned about gun violence across the nation, United Methodists are joining other Christians in the Midlands to advocate peace and conflict resolution in South Carolina.

Launched by retired United Methodist pastor the Rev. John Evans, the Gun Violence Coalition is a faith-based, nonpartisan, nonprofit group that raises awareness about gun violence, its prevention and its impact on families and communities; promotes responsible gun ownership by providing information about gun safety and security; educates the public about alternatives to violence through conflict resolution; and advocates for civil discourse, cooperation and collaboration for real security and a less violent society and culture.

The coalition includes people from a variety of denominations, including United Methodist, Roman Catholic, Unitarian and Baptist. They are also dialoguing with other faiths, such as Columbia s Bahai population, hoping the coalition will become interfaith, not just ecumenical.

It s for anyone who wants to make a statement of compassion, Evans said about the coalition, which started with six people and is now 40 strong and growing. There is a non-violent way to approach problems in society, and we hope to get out that there are other ways to solve conflict than with guns.

On April 19, the coalition will hold a gun giveback event, Lilies for Guns, where people are encouraged to turn in guns and receive a peace lily in exchange. The guns will be melted by the law enforcement and turned over to an artist, who the coalition will commission to create a work of art in honor of non-violence. The event is scheduled for the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter.

The coalition got its start a little more than a year ago after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that claimed the lives of 26, including 20 young children.

I was deeply moved, Evans said, and immediately began research on what could be done to fight gun violence.

Evans began a series of discussions with similar-minded people in his sphere. His Sunday school class, the Dawsey Class, at Washington Street United Methodist Church, Columbia, did a gun violence study, and Evans also began dialoguing with Mark Huguley, a Roman Catholic and mayor of Arcadia Lakes who is a retired S.C. Law Enforcement Division agent and former Federal Bureau of Investigation intelligence analyst.

Thus began a series of meetings with a core group of people that has steadily grown each month. They gather for lunch and brainstorm about ways they can effectively stop gun violence ”before South Carolina experiences its own Sandy Hook, Newtown, Columbine or Aurora. They have been in talks with Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott and Lexington County Sheriff James Metts, both who have been fabulously open, providing resources, support and other assistance, Evans said. Officers from both of those departments have been attending the coalition meetings.

All of this discussion is very good for the people of this community, Evans said, who told the crowd gathered at the January meeting that gun violence is a public health issue.

Fear is driving so much, Evans said. We ve got to find common ground to openly dialogue and communicate across the straddle with no political agenda.

Huguley, who himself enjoys shooting for sport, said the coalition is most certainly not against responsible gun ownership. Rather, it is about having a reasonable faith-based discussion about the way our society deals with conflict ”and advocating for reasonable regulations and awareness.

Huguley said our society has an unhealthy fascination with guns, firearms and violence that runs counter to the teachings of Jesus.

Christians in particular have a responsibility to teach as Jesus did about how we should treat each other, and the obsession with guns detracts from it, Huguley said. If you think you have to arm yourself to go out in the world every day, as some people believe, that seems inconsistent with how we should treat other people as we d want to be treated ourselves.

Huguley said he hopes the coalition will help prompt reasonable discussion and basis for South Carolinians to think about guns in a more reasonable way.

I enjoy shooting sports so wouldn t want anyone who is lawfully entitled to own a firearm to be prohibited from that, but reasonable regulations we can and should as a people enact under our constitution to ensure guns are not as readily available to those not authorized to have them or not qualified to have them, Huguley said, noting South Carolina used to have much stricter licensing requirements in S.C. than it does currently.

The Rev. Tom Wall, a United Methodist pastor and campus minister for the Methodist Student Network at the University of South Carolina, is also part of the Gun Violence Coalition s steering committee.

There just comes a point when you have to add your voice to the mix even if it's a controversial issue, Wall said. As a Christian, one of the fundamental concerns is being a peacemaker.

Like Huguley, Wall said he is concerned about how our culture seems to have an unhealthy inclination to address conflict with violence, as well as how our society often views guns as a source of power and identity, even security. He sees the coalition as a way to advocate a change of position and education about guns in society.

The whole gun culture has so much to do with how people approach people and solve conflict. Some young men see guns as a rite of passage, Wall said. Those are incredibly important questions we should be asking as Christians ”why is this a rite of passage?

For now, the coalition is gearing up for its April 19 Lilies for Guns event, which will be held at two locations: the parking lot of Washington Street UMC, Columbia, and Brookland Baptist Church, West Columbia. They are talking now with artists for the sculpture, and seeking donations to help with the sculpture and melting, as well as for the lilies that will be given out April 19. To donate, mail to Washington Street UMC, Attn: Gun Violence Coalition s Lilies for Guns, 1401 Washington Street, Columbia, SC 29201.

To get involved with the Gun Violence Coalition, all are welcome to attend a monthly luncheon meeting held the third Tuesday of each month at noon. The next meeting is Feb. 18 at Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia. Cost is $10.

You can also contact Evans at 803-931-0888 or [email protected], or Sej Harman at 803-730-7208 or [email protected].

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