A GROUP of more than 70 Episcopal bishops working to curtail liberal gun laws in the United States have said that the nation must make amends for its “idolisation” of all forms of violence.
Bishops United Against Gun Violence released a statement on Monday condemning a gun attack on the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, which left at least 26 people dead and many more wounded, including children.
The suspect was named by local sources as Devin Patrick Kelley, a 26-year-old ex-Air Force serviceman who had previously been discharged for bad conduct. He was found dead in his vehicle shortly after the attack.
A military spokeswoman, Ann Stefanek, reported on Monday that Kelly had been court-martialled in 2012 for domestic assault and dismissed in 2014 for bad conduct. Legal documents have since emerged reporting that he had threatened his wife and their stepson repeatedly with loaded and unloaded firearms; had kicked and choked his wife; and beat the child until his life was in danger.
The Pentagon confirmed on Monday that this record had not been included in a national database used by licensed gun sellers to conduct background checks to establish whether potential customers are permitted to own a firearm. It is illegal to sell or give a gun to a person convicted of a crime involving domestic violence in the US.
Kelly had been able to buy a fire arm every year since being discharged.
Bishops United Against Gun Violence said: “As a nation, we must acknowledge that we idolize violence, and we must make amends. Violence of all kinds denigrates humankind; it stands against the will of God and the way of Jesus the Christ.
“The shooting in Sutherland Springs brings the issue of domestic violence, a common thread in many mass killings, into sharp relief. It is not only essential that we keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, but that we, as a society, reject ideologies of male dominance that permeate our culture and the history of our churches.
“Each of us has a role to play in our repentance. Elected representatives bear the responsibility of passing legislation that protects our citizenry. If our representatives are not up to this responsibility, we must replace them.”
Officials have also suggested that the attack may have been motivated by a domestic dispute. Reuters reported that the suspect had sent threatening text messages to his mother-in-law immediately before entering the church.
Kelly shot himself in the head, having crashed his vehicle after being pursued at high-speed by the police and a local motorist, Johnnie Langendorff, who had been driving past the scene. The suspect had already been shot twice — in the leg and torso — by an armed resident, Stephen Willeford, outside the church.
Among the victims was the 14-year-old daughter of the pastor, Frank Pomeroy, who was not present; a five-year-old child; elderly churchgoers; and a pregnant woman whose three children, brother-in-law, and niece were also killed. Two people died outside the church, 23 inside, and one in hospital from their wounds.
The Bishops concluded: “We ask that in honour of our many murdered dead, elected leaders who behave as though successive episodes of mass slaughter are simply the price our nation pays for freedom stop the reflexive and corrosive repetition of the phrase ‘thoughts and prayers’.
“One does not offer prayers in lieu of demonstrating political courage, but rather in preparation.”