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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Clergy Send Letter Backing Sam Adams' Proposed Gun Laws

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Sat, Nov 13, 2010 at 12:08 PM

A group of Portland religious leaders sent a letter to the Portland City Council on Friday mostly expressing support for Mayor Sam Adams' ambitious package of anti-gun-crime laws—due for a vote Thursday, November 18—but also asking the city find other ways to address the spasms of gang violence that led Adams to draw up his proposals.

The proposals include "exclusions" from "hotspots" beset by a spike in gun crimes, as well as curfews for youths, tougher punishments for gun criminals found carrying loaded guns in public, and penalties for gun owners who fail to report lost/stolen guns or who allow a child to have access to the guns. The exclusions and curfew would apply only to those convicted of—not arrested for—gun crimes.

The hotspots include a large part of North and Northeast Portland (from MLK to Interstate and Lombard to Russell), much of downtown, and an area near the Gateway Transit Center out in East Portland.

The clergy who sent the letter say they support the curfew, as well as toughened punishment—a 30-day mandatory minimum sentence—for gun convicts carrying loaded guns in public. Still, they wrote:

We call on the city of Portland to do more to address the systematic issues that cause violence. We are particularly concerned that neither Portland nor our region has plans to reduce poverty, for example. Hopelessness breeds violence. The lack of afterschool programs for children and breakdown in family structures are also of concern to people of faith. Many of these issues disproportionally impact communities of color and recent immigrant populations.

The Rev. Chuck Currie, one of the signers, also said on his blog, "I have concerns over the exclusion zones. Different types of such zones have proven ineffective and always been ruled unconstitutional. I suspect if such a new zone was enacted the courts would rule once again that this is not a legal tool that passes constitutional muster."

That's a concern I heard from members of the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, which I wrote about this week in Hall Monitor. The AMA echoed similar concerns in the Oregonian this morning. I also reported in Hall Monitor this week that Adams is proposing an oversight committee meant to ensure no racial profiling occurs because of the exclusion zones.

Read the full text of the letter after the jump.

As leaders in Portland's religious community, we write to offer support for efforts undertaken by Portland's mayor to stem the tide of gun violence in our city.

Specifically, we support: "A child safety law that would hold adults responsible if their gun gets into a child's hands, a theft reporting law that would penalize gun owners who don't report the theft or loss of a firearm; and an exclusion zone measure that would designate shooting hot spots in the city, and allow the city to exclude gun offenders who are on probation or under juvenile authority from entering a public area or park within the hot spot locations, unless they live in the area, go to school, obtain social services or travel through it."

We also support two other measures that "would amend city code: a special 7 p.m. curfew for juveniles who have been convicted of a gun offense, found to have possessed, purchased, used, transferred or transported a firearm unlawfully; and placing a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days in jail for previous gun offenders found carrying a loaded gun in a public place, which includes a vehicle or on transit."

Our thinking on this issue is informed by both our experience as clergy in a city with growing gun violence that has taken the lives of too many of our youth and from our faith in God. We concur with the statement "Ending Gun Violence: A Resolution and Call to Action by the National Council of Churches of Christ, U.S.A." that was adopted by the Governing Board of the National Council of Churches on May 17, 2010:

When thinking about the problem of violence, Christian faith is both “idealistic” and “realistic.” On the one hand, there is a stream within the Christian tradition that counsels non-violence in all circumstances. A seminal text is the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew's gospel, where Jesus instructs his followers to bear violence rather than inflict it. "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.... You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . . (Matt. 5: 38-39, 43-44).

It is difficult to imagine that the One whose own Passion models the redemptive power of non-violence would look favorably on the violence of contemporary U.S. society. Present-day violence is made far worse than it otherwise would be by the prevalence of weapons on our streets. This stream of the Christian tradition insists that it is idolatry to trust in guns to make us secure, since that usually leads to mutual escalation while distracting us from the One whose love alone gives us security.

On the other hand, Christians also know, from both experience and scripture, that all humans are sinful, capable of acting with hostile aggression toward their neighbors. This "realistic" view of human nature also argues for restricting access to guns which, in the wrong hands or without adequate supervision, can make violence ever more deadly. Christians can certainly contend that it is necessary for public authorities to take up arms in order to protect citizens from violence; but to allow assault weapons in the hands of the general public can scarcely be justified on Christian grounds. The stark reality is that such weapons end up taking more lives than they defend, and the reckless sale or use of these weapons refutes the gospel’s prohibition against violence.

The proposals put forward by the mayor are reasonable and if enacted they will lift up the common good of our community. We urge the City Council to adopt these proposals.

Furthermore, we call on the city of Portland to do more to address the systematic issues that cause violence. We are particularly concerned that neither Portland nor our region has plans to reduce poverty, for example. Hopelessness breeds violence. The lack of afterschool programs for children and breakdown in family structures are also of concern to people of faith. Many of these issues disproportionally impact communities of color and recent immigrant populations.

Our city has a $613 million 20 year bike plan but no plan to address these critical issues.[4] We argue, therefore, that the increase in gun violence is in part a result of a lack of leadership in Portland. The gun violence reduction proposals, while important, will not stem to tide of violence alone. Portland requires aggressive leadership on important moral issues, such as poverty, that have largely been ignored in recent years. As faith leaders, will stand ready to assist in any serious efforts on this front.

If you have questions please contact Rev. Chuck Currie at 503-208-6521 or rev@chuckcurrie.com.

Sincerely,

The Rev. Chuck Currie, Minister, United Church of Christ

Mary Jo Tully, Chancellor, Archdiocese of Portland

The Rev. Dr. Arvin Luchs, Senior Minister, First United Methodist Church of Portland

The Rev. Dr. Anton DeWet, Senior Minister, First Congregational United Church of Christ of Portland

The Rev. Kate Lore, Social Justice Minister, First Unitarian Church of Portland

The Rev. Jennifer Garrison Brownell, Minister, Hillsdale Community Church - UCC

Sister Mary Kay Lampert, Sisters of the Holy Names

The Rev. Cecil Charles Prescod, OCC, Director of Christian Education and Youth Ministries, Ainsworth United Church of Christ

The Rev. Chuck Cooper, Pastor, Spiritus Abbey

The Rev. Susan Leo, Minister, Bridgeport United Church of Christ

The Rev. Don Frueh, Pastor, Parkrose Community United Church of Christ

* titles and organizational affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.

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