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In a weekend of bloodshed, US bishop calls for national unity on gun-law reform

05 August 2019


The crowd at the prayer vigil in El Paso on Sunday night

The crowd at the prayer vigil in El Paso on Sunday night

THE United States needs to come together across the conservative-liberal divide to seek a middle way between “everybody having guns, or nobody”, the Bishop of Rio Grande, the Rt Revd Michael Hunn, has said, after a gun massacre of 20 people in his diocese on Saturday. A further victim died in hospital on Monday.

Police linked the incident in the city of El Paso, where the majority of the population is of Hispanic descent, to white nationalism and anti-immigrant hate speech.

A 21-year-old white man, Patrick Crusius, a resident of Allen, in the Dallas area, has been charged with murder.

At an interfaith vigil on Sunday, Bishop Hunn said that the people of El Paso loved their neighbours on both sides of the Rio Grande, which marks the border between the US and Mexico.

Nine more victims were left dead after a gun massacre in Dayton, Ohio, early on Sunday morning. The motives of the gunman, Conor Betts, 24, who shot and killed his sister and eight other people before he was shot dead by police, are not known.

On Saturday evening, the US President, Donald Trump, condemned the El Paso shooting as a “hateful act”. On Sunday, after the Ohio massacre, he said: “I want to extend our condolences from El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. They’re incredible people, they’ve been through a lot.”

He said that “perhaps more has to be done” to prevent mass shootings. “Hate has no place in our country, and we are going to take care of it,” he told reporters. “This has been going on for years, for years and years in our country and we have to get it stopped.” He linked both attacks to a “mental-illness problem”, and said: “If you look at both of these cases, this is mental illness. These are people who are very, very seriously mentally ill.”

On Sunday, Beto O’Rourke, who is running to be the Democrat candidate in next year’s presidential election, said, however, that President Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants lay behind the El Paso attack. He said: “He is a racist and he stokes racism in this country, and it does not just offend our sensibilities, it fundamentally changes the character of this country and it leads to violence.”

At a press conference on Monday, President Trump said: “In one voice our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America.”

Speaking in a video message (below) on Saturday, Bishop Hunn said: “We, in the US, have to figure out what we’re going to do about guns. Too often the debate is framed about everybody having guns, or nobody having guns.

“We in the Anglican tradition and the Episcopal Church are a people of the middle way, the via media, and we’ve got to come together, conservative and liberal, in order to find a way to both preserve our second-amendment rights, while also preserving the safety of our public spaces in this country. We should be able to go to the movies, or to the mall, or to dinner, or to school, without the fear that we might get shot.”

He continued: “As the bishop of a south-western diocese, let me be clear, I don’t feel safer if everyone in the movie theatre has a gun, and I don’t feel safer if everyone in the restaurant is carrying, and I don’t feel safer if the teachers are carrying. . . Let’s come up with a solution that’s better than that. . .

“We in the church are called to make peace in our neighbourhoods, and with young people. Let’s redouble our efforts to bring peace to young people. . . Let’s roll up our sleeves and make our neighbourhoods safer places.”

At the vigil, held on Sunday, he urged the crowd to “bear witness to the love that is stronger than death”.

President Trump did not endorse gun control measures, saying “mental health and hate pull the trigger, not the gun”. He called mass shooters “mentally ill monsters”.

He criticised “gruesome” video games and the internet for spreading violence. He said: “It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence. We must stop or substantially reduce this and it has to begin immediately.”

In his Sunday address, Pope Francis prayed for the victims of the two attacks, who, he said, had been “defenceless”.

The president and general secretary of the US National Council of Churches, Jim Winkler, said on Sunday that assault weapons should be banned. He argued: “The combination of readily available weapons of mass destruction and a toxic white racist nationalist ideology is a recipe for disaster. If we cannot confront these two evils, far greater violence and social disruption awaits our nation.”

A statement released by the council on Sunday read: “Racist, inflammatory rhetoric must be replaced by words and deeds that create beloved communities, ones that embrace ethnic, racial, and religious diversity.”

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said: “We stand with our sisters and brothers in the US in these hours of grief and confusion. And, along with our condolences, we join the urgent cries of churches and church people for real remedies to the gun violence there.”

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