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US church leaders commemorate victims of mass shootings

17 May 2023

Alamy

A father consoles his children at the location of a mass shooting outside a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in May 2022

A father consoles his children at the location of a mass shooting outside a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in May 2022

CHURCH leaders in the United States are taking part in the anniversaries of some of the country’s deadliest mass shootings.

Last weekend, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Most Revd Michael Curry, travelled to his home city of Buffalo as it marked a year since a shooting at a grocery store left ten dead (News, 20 May 2022). Most of the victims were from the Black community.

The 18-year-old white gunman pleaded guilty to murder and hate-crime charges, and was sentenced to life in prison.

Bishop Curry took part in a panel discussion before the anniversary with leaders from politics and education. The panel called for the country to acknowledge the historic racial inequities which created the conditions for the massacre. “Racism and hate are part of our American story,” the Chancellor of the State University of New York, John B. King Jr., said.

“Love begins with truth telling. It always begins with truth telling and healing begins with truth telling,” Bishop Curry said. “We grew up here with people who struggled to make Buffalo better. Who struggled to have not just equality, but equity; who struggled with school systems; who struggled with continuing poverty; who struggled with blighted communities; and much of that continues.”

Later this month, the community of Uvalde, in Texas, will commemorate the 19 children and two adults who died in a shooting at an elementary school on 24 May (News, 27 May 2022). It was the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook, in 2012.

St Philip’s Episcopal Church is holding prayers throughout the week. Its Rector, the Revd Mike Marsh, said in a Facebook post about the anniversary: “One of the things I’ve learned about grief is that there are very few, if any, answers. There is only the next step. We are about to take a big next step — the first anniversary of May 24th. This first anniversary holds before us a couple of realities.

“First, the loss is really real. We’re not going to wake up from the nightmare and time will not turn back and undo what has happened. We’ve known it’s real but the first anniversary somehow makes it more real. Second, we’ve done something we thought was impossible. We survived the first year despite all the times we didn’t want to or didn’t think we could.”

Bishop Curry is due to travel to Alabama to mark a year since three parishioners were killed while attending a church dinner (News, 24 June 2022).

The Gun Violence Archive, a charity that tracks shootings in the US, recorded 647 mass shootings in 2022. It defines mass shootings as shootings where more than four people are shot, not including the shooter. Gun violence overall killed more than 44,000 people in the US in 2022, the Archive’s records show, with July the month in which the most attacks occurred.

The US has the highest rates of gun ownership in the world, and more people die from shootings in the US than any other country, apart from Brazil. In England and Wales, the latest figures from the House of Commons library show that there were 35 homicides by gun in the year up to March 2021.

The Episcopal Church has lobbied for changes in gun laws for many years. The group Bishops Against Gun Violence met again this week in Washington to work together “against the twin epidemics of gun violence and racism”.

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