Former police officer Gayle Fisher-Stewart speaks at prayerful procession against gun violence

Posted Jun 28, 2015

[Episcopal News Service — Salt Lake City] The Rev. Gayle Fisher-Stewart served as a police officer with the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., for 23 years. She is currently a deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

As a retired police officer, she has the right to carry a gun in the United States, but chooses not to. Addressing the Claiming Common Ground Against Gun Violence march on the morning of June 28 in Salt Lake City, she explains why the United States needs fewer guns and calls for stronger action to combat gun violence.


Comments (2)

  1. Marcia Burchstead says:

    I served as a police officer in Massachusetts. I was issued a handgun. It was the only one I ever had possession of. I never owned my own handgun and do not plan to. Most people who are victims of gun violence know their assailant. In Utah there has been a rise in the number of murder-suicides and the murderer has taken the lives of their own children. When will we wake up from this madness and require background checks, licensing and training and ban the sale of automatic and assault weapons?

  2. J.R. Robinson says:

    Thank you, Rev. Gayle, for a relatively balanced presentation on this subject.

    Let me say up from that I am inclined to agree with your armed clergy friend. That is, I think that if somebody is capable of safely and legally carrying concealed, that it should be their choice (in public places — most states give private businesses and entities the right to exclude concealed carry, which is fine with me). I live in a state that vets concealed carry with testing, extensive background checks, and licensing, which is all fine with me.

    But here is the topic that I think is more relevant. Discussions about weapons belie a larger question about the morality of self defense, which is a euphemism for what Martin Luther King called “defensive violence”. Is defensive violence moral? Is it ever moral? We have a longstanding theory of just wars. I can think of situations where defending innocent third parties from harm could justify violence. We might, like Bonhoeffer, choose defensive violence and confess it later as the lesser of two evils.

    Many Episcopalians probably do not give this much thought, because we live relatively safe lives. The most we have likely thought about how to deal with danger or violence is to call law enforcement. So I will ask a follow-up question: Is is any more or less moral to call the police in response to a threat versus we defending ourselves/innocents? My view is that calling the police is merely defensive/deadly force by proxy, and I do not see a moral difference. I only see a practical trade-off: the police are better trained and equipped, while a legally armed citizen on the scene is, well, already on the scene.

    I have met some very strong pacifists who will argue that using force or deadly force to resist criminal violence is not justified, especially in church. (Do these strong pacifists object to calling the police?) I understand here is a tradition of not bringing weapons into a sanctuary, going back to medieval times. I even had one clergy tell me that the preferred way to deal with a hypothetical situation of an active shooter in church was to essentially tackle him — as long as the sanctity of the building wasn’t violated by the presence of weapons (my paraphrase). Is that morally superior to only use one’s fists or feet to stop someone from harming parishioners? Is it morally superior to give a slower and less effective disarmed defensive response to a deadly attack? To me that hearkens back to Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees about failing to take care of a practical needs just because it was a sabbath day.

    If you accept the premise that defensive violence is sometimes warranted, then the only issue I have with concealed carry of firearms is the qualification of the person carrying (hopefully ensured with background checking and licensing).

    Thank you for letting me post this.

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